This is a tough one for me, as all the worst things I’ve done have been products of arrogance, of times when I was feeling well-appreciated and could do no wrong. But I did wrong through misusing the power I had over others. Looking back I burn with shame at the memory of what I did or said.
So I have no difficulty in accepting Jesus’ frequent warnings against arrogance, especially his put-downs of pharisees and even of his own disciples. In his teaching about charity he criticised those who drew attention to their own goodness, urging that they should not be conscious of their kindness: “don’t let your left hand know what your right is doing!” That surely cuts off any self- congratulation. His prohibition against judging others is primarily an attack on the arrogance which allows one sinner to castigate the sins of others. And his response to the desire of some of his disciples to lord it over others, goes to the root of the problem: “The rulers of the gentile nations lord it over their people, but it is not so amongst you. If anyone wants to be great he must be the willing slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” God’s “Humane Ruler” (Son of Man) with whom Jesus identified, was a slave not a tyrant.
Jesus’ persistent advocacy of the importance of children and of the kind of adults he called “little ones” ran counter to the taken-for-granted hierarchies of his society, and of too many branches of his church today, where unchecked power has led to the abuse of children and vulnerable adults. This example points to the link between arrogance and power. An arrogant person who has no power at all is a joke. But arrogance is usually a perception that you do have power in relation to another person and that it can be exercised to your advantage. Even in trivial matters you can feel a savage pleasure in doing so.
The arrogant of the earth are already busy deciding how the ever- scarcer resources of a warming planet can be used to secure their own life-style and privilege. We should not be fooled by the fact that some of them deny climate change. That’s for public consumption. They have already worked out whose territories and resources they will plunder when push comes to shove. Their arrogance must be constantly exposed and challenged.
Even more vital for the future of humanity however will be the example of those who have learned from Jesus or any other teacher, how to number themselves with the little ones and to serve the common good. There is an entirely erroneous view that humility entails ineffectiveness. The protests in Hong Kong at present by large numbers of ordinary people refusing to kow-tow to power while working together for the common good, are nothing if not effective; as was the humility of great leaders like Nelson Mandela or Luther King; as was the witness of a certain carpenter from Nazareth, who said, “Whoever welcomes this child welcomes me and the One Who Sent Me.”