March 8 – Humble Not Proud

“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. ” – James 4:9-10 (ESV)

For those who observe and follow the ‘holy days’ on a church calendar, one week ago was Mardi Gras*. Translated “Fat Tuesday” it is the day when all let loose their inhibitions because of what is required of them next. The next day on those calendars is “Ash Wednesday” which marks the solemn entrance into this Christian “season” of Lent, which is one of reflection and repentance. It may appear strange to some in our culture, which presumes that our own thriving as human beings must follow the way of self-acceptance, positive self-esteem, self-assertion, and even pride in ourselves “just the way we are.” But we know that God opposes the proud. Ash Wednesday is completely counter-cultural. It gives opportunity to abide by the biblical admonition to turn from our sins and humble ourselves before God just as James instructs us in today’s passage. The larger context in the letter from James includes all of James 4 and even more. One of our promises in this chapter is that as we humble ourselves, the Lord will exalt us. Not expected in this life, in fact most likely not in this world but in God’s time it will happen in heaven. 


* Mardi Gras is strongly associated with wild bacchanalia and debauchery, but the original intent of the holiday and how it’s kept by the faithful is much different. Fat Tuesday, as it is known in English, is a long-standing tradition of the Catholic Church and it marks the last day of ordinary time before the start of Lent, a time of fasting and repentance. While the parties in Europe, South America, and parts of the United States have gained the most attention in popular culture, they seriously misrepresent and outright eclipse the Catholic intent of the holiday.

According to historians, the celebration of Mardi Gras has its roots in the pagan Roman celebration of Lupercalia. This was a February holiday and it honored the Roman god of fertility. It involved feasting, drinking, and carnal behavior.

However, with the rise of the Church in ancient Rome, Christian teaching and morals took root, but there always remained a strong need to blend ancient Roman traditional practices with the growing Christian faith. The blending of tradition with new religious beliefs was a common practice in the ancient world and it helped people to transition away from paganism. In fact, there are a number of ancient Roman traditions that persevere in the Roman Catholic Church to this day, where they continue to guide the faithful.

As Catholic Christianity spread throughout Europe during the first millennium, different cultures celebrated the last day before Lent in their own ways, adapting the practices to suit their cultures. In France, the holiday became particularly popular as people feasted on foods that would be given up during the forty days of Lent. Meats, eggs, and milk were finished off in one day, giving the holiday its French title of ‘Mardi Gras’ which means Fat Tuesday.