Ecclesiasticus 3:17-20.28-29; Hebrews 12:18-19.22-24; Luke 14:1.7-14
Those who know me well know that I have a particular fondness for vampire movies, a fondness which began with the Underworld series. The vampire world, like ours, is divided basically between good vampires and bad ones. The good vampires care for humans and each other; the bad ones don’t. They just care for themselves. And, of course, just like in our world, there is always some unexpected redemption going on – some goodies turn bad and some baddies become good.
But what I like about all this is that somehow, in the allegory of the vampire, I read more clearly the human drives and motivations, the virtues and vices, which we non-vampires usually take greater care to conceal. Vampires have tremendous gifts and powers and don’t need to fear the things we fear, like death for example, because they are already dead. Therefore they are usually more transparent than humans because they put less energy into concealing who they really are.
For us humans, concealing who we really are is generally the task of the ego which always imagines that we are more than we really are.
To keep us in the illusion of a greatness we don’t possess the ego will defend us from each and every attack of its adversary – the truth – or, in other words, reality.
It will attempt to paper over our interior frailty and weakness with all sorts of external adornments like fame, popularity, power, money, and even the highest place at table. All these things will help to disguise the emptiness, the nothingness, within; to make us and the people around us believe, falsely, that we are something more than they are; something we actually are not.
Not only will the ego defend us from threats to our imagined greatness but it will also occasionally attack – cutting perceived enemies down with an array of vicious weapons like: lies, bullying, gossip, slander, and so on.
To prevent us and others from seeing the truth about ourselves the ego has to be fast on its feet – like a vampire. How often does the poor heroine, confronted by the vampire, turn around to run away only to find him once again standing before her? My ego is that fast! Everywhere I turn I find – myself – me, me, me. It’s all about – me.
Naturally, the arch-enemy of the ego is humility. If ego is all about me; humility is all about you. Ego takes the highest place at the table; humility surrenders it to you. Ego invites rich neighbours to its feasts in the hope that it will be repaid; humility invites the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind because it seeks only the good of the other without thinking of itself. Humility embraces the truth; it embraces reality – the ego is a lie, it is, like the vampire, already dead.
For the Christian to live in humility it must find a way to disarm the ego, to strip it of its power, to uncover and recognise its lies. For most of us this is the task of a life time. It is almost a definition of the Christian struggle though it must take into account that without the grace of God the struggle would be too much.
I recall a meeting between two female vampires. One said to the other, ‘I suppose you are going to hurt me because I killed your father.’ The other said, “No, I killed a man too, and I guess he was someone’s father. I am no better than you.’
This, of course, is the great insight, the great truth, upon which humility is built: I am no better than you. The prophet Elijah (1Kgs 19:4) put it in these words: I am no better than my ancestors. The Christian seeking perfection might say: I am no better than my fathers, in fact, I am worse.
It came as no surprise to me that one of the vampires who had lived for many centuries declared, in a heated moment, that being a vampire was a misery. Being under the thrall of a strong ego is much the same. Only humble people really enjoy life because they have seen and acknowledge who they really are. They know the truth about themselves and can move on from there.
Humble people have no need to be self-assertive; to hold grudges; to be jealous of the gifts of others; to be constantly competing for attention; to hate themselves, to judge their neighbour. Humble people find it very easy to forgive because they know their own sins. They can accept God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of other because they have owned their weakness and confessed their sin.
One of the ‘Originals’, the first four vampires, Klaus, fell in love but the girl would not have him. He ached for her but to no avail. Klaus was a powerful and ruthless man whom no one could stand up against; he always got his way, except with this girl.
Gradually Klaus makes a discovery. The more he relinquishes his need to always prevail the more this beautiful girl is moved to feel for him. The battle with himself is not easy but bit by bit he lets go of his ego and more and more the girl is drawn to him.
What Klaus had discovered about the love of his life is no news to us Christians: The greater you are the more you should behave humbly; and then you will find favour with the Lord.