Great Themes of the Bible: Humility

24 Dec

(Luke 14:7-11 NIV)  When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: {8} “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. {9} If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. {10} But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. {11} For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Sabbath Day hospitality was an important part of Jewish life, so it was not unusual for Jesus to be invited to a home for a meal after the weekly synagogue service. Sometimes the host invited Him sincerely because he wanted to learn more of God’s truth. But many times Jesus was asked to dine only so His enemies could watch Him and find something to criticize and condemn. That was the case on the occasion described in Luke 14 when a leader of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner.

Jesus was fully aware of what was in men’s hearts (John 2:24-25), so He was never caught off guard. In fact, instead of hosts or guests judging Jesus, it was Jesus who passed judgment on them when they least expected it. Indeed, in this respect, He was a dangerous person to sit with at a meal or to follow on the road! In Luke 14, we see Jesus dealing with five different kinds of people and exposing what was false in their lives and their thinking.

The Pharisees: False Piety (Luke 14:1-6)

Instead of bringing them to repentance, Jesus’ severe denunciation of the Pharisees and scribes (Luke 11:39-52) only provoked them to retaliation, and they plotted against Him. The Pharisee who invited Jesus to his home for dinner also invited a man afflicted with dropsy. This is a painful disease in which, because of kidney trouble, a heart ailment, or liver disease, the tissues fill with water. How heartless of the Pharisees to “use” this man as a tool to accomplish their wicked plan, but if we do not love the Lord, neither will we love our neighbor. Their heartless treatment of the man was far worse than our Lord’s “lawless” behavior on the Sabbath.

This afflicted man would not have been invited to such an important dinner were it not that the Pharisees wanted to use him as “bait” to catch Jesus. They knew that Jesus could not be in the presence of human suffering very long without doing something about it. If He ignored the afflicted man, then He was without compassion; but if He healed him, then He was openly violating the Sabbath and they could accuse Him. They put the dropsied man right in front of the Master so He could not avoid him, and then they waited for the trap to spring.

Keep in mind that Jesus had already “violated” their Sabbath traditions on at least seven different occasions. On the Sabbath Day, He had cast out a demon (Luke 4:31-37), healed a fever (Luke 4:38-39), allowed His disciples to pluck grain (Luke 6:1-5), healed a lame man (John 5:1-9), healed a man with a paralyzed hand (Luke 6:6-10), delivered a crippled woman who was afflicted by a demon (Luke 13:10-17), and healed a man born blind (John 9). Why our Lord’s enemies thought that one more bit of evidence was necessary, we do not know, but we do know that their whole scheme backfired.

When Jesus asked what their convictions were about the Sabbath Day, He used on them the weapon they had forged for Him. To begin with, they couldn’t heal anybody on any day, and everybody knew it. But even more, if the Pharisees said that nobody should be healed on the Sabbath, the people would consider them heartless; if they gave permission for healing, their associates would consider them lawless. The dilemma was now theirs, not the Lord’s, and they needed a way to escape. As they did on more than one occasion, the scribes and Pharisees evaded the issue by saying nothing.

Jesus healed the man and let him go, knowing that the Pharisee’s house was not the safest place for him. Instead of providing evidence against Jesus, the man provided evidence against the Pharisees, for he was “exhibit A” of the healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord knew too much about this legalistic crowd to let them escape. He knew that on the Sabbath Day they would deliver their farm animals from danger, so why not permit Him to deliver a man who was made in the likeness of God? Seemingly, they were suggesting that animals were more important than people. (It is tragic that some people even today have more love for their pets than they do for their family members, their neighbors, or even for a lost world.)

Jesus exposed the false piety of the Pharisees and the scribes. They claimed to be defending God’s Sabbath laws, when in reality they were denying God by the way they abused people and accused the Saviour. There is a big difference between protecting God’s truth and promoting man’s traditions.

The Guests: False Popularity (Luke 14:7-11)

Experts in management tell us that most people wear an invisible sign that reads, “Please make me feel important”; if we heed that sign, we can succeed in human relations. On the other hand, if we say or do things that make others feel insignificant, we will fail. Then people will respond by becoming angry and resentful, because everybody wants to be noticed and made to feel important.

In Jesus’ day, as today, there were “status symbols” that helped people enhance and protect their high standing in society. If you were invited to the “right homes” and if you were seated in the “right places,” then people would know how important you really were. The emphasis was on reputation, not character. It was more important to sit in the right places than to live the right kind of life.

In New Testament times, the closer you sat to the host, the higher you stood on the social ladder and the more attention (and invitations) you would receive from others. Naturally, many people rushed to the “head table” when the doors were opened because they wanted to be important.

This kind of attitude betrays a false view of success. “Try not to become a man of success,” said Albert Einstein, “but try to become a man of value.” While there may be some exceptions, it is usually true that valuable people are eventually recognized and appropriately honored. Success that comes only from self-promotion is temporary, and you may be embarrassed as you are asked to move down (Prov. 25:6-7).

When Jesus advised the guests to take the lowest places, He was not giving them a “gimmick” that guaranteed promotion. The false humility that takes the lowest place is just as hateful to God as the pride that takes the highest place. God is not impressed by our status in society or in the church. He is not influenced by what people say or think about us, because He sees the thoughts and motives of the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). God still humbles the proud and exalts the humble (James 4:6).

British essayist Francis Bacon compared fame to a river that easily carried “things light and swollen” but that drowned “things weighty and solid.” It is interesting to scan old editions of encyclopedias and see how many “famous people” are “forgotten people” today.

Humility is a fundamental grace in the Christian life, and yet it is elusive; if you know you have it, you have lost it! It has well been said that humility is not thinking meanly of ourselves; it is simply not thinking of ourselves at all. Jesus is the greatest example of humility, and we would do well to ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to imitate Him (Phil. 2:1-16).

The Host: False Hospitality (Luke 14:12-14)

Jesus knew that the host had invited his guests for two reasons: (1) to pay them back because they had invited him to past feasts, or (2) to put them under his debt so that they would invite him to future feasts. Such hospitality was not an expression of love and grace but rather an evidence of pride and selfishness. He was “buying” recognition.

Jesus does not prohibit us from entertaining family and friends, but He warns us against entertaining only family and friends exclusively and habitually. That kind of “fellowship” quickly degenerates into a “mutual admiration society” in which each one tries to outdo the others and no one dares to break the cycle. Sad to say, too much church social life fits this description.

Our motive for sharing must be the praise of God and not the applause of men, the eternal reward in heaven and not the temporary recognition on earth. A pastor friend of mine used to remind me, “You can’t get your reward twice!” and he was right (see Matt. 6:1-18). On the day of judgment, many who today are first in the eyes of men will be last in God’s eyes, and many who are last in the eyes of men will be first in the eyes of God (Luke 13:30).

In our Lord’s time, it was not considered proper to ask poor people and handicapped people to public banquets. (The women were not invited either!) But Jesus commanded us to put these needy people at the top of our guest list because they cannot pay us back. If our hearts are right, God will see to it that we are properly rewarded, though getting a reward must not be the motive for our generosity. When we serve others from unselfish hearts, we are laying up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20) and becoming “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).

Our modern world is very competitive, and it is easy for God’s people to become more concerned about profit and loss than they are about sacrifice and service. “What will I get out of it?” may easily become life’s most important question (Matt. 19:27ff). We must strive to maintain the unselfish attitude that Jesus had and share what we have with others.

The Jews: False Security (Luke 14:15-24)

When Jesus mentioned “the resurrection of the just,” one of the guests became excited and said, “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” The Jewish people pictured their future kingdom as a great feast with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets as the honored guests (Luke 13:28; see Isa. 25:6). This anonymous guest was confident that he would one day be at the “kingdom feast” with them! Jesus responded by telling him a parable that revealed the sad consequences of false confidence.

In Jesus’ day when you invited guests to a dinner, you told them the day but not the exact hour of the meal. A host had to know how many guests were coming so he could butcher the right amount of animals and prepare sufficient food. Just before the feast was to begin, the host sent his servants to each of the guests to tell them the banquet was ready and they should come (see Es. 5:8; 6:14). In other words, each of the guests in this parable had already agreed to attend the banquet. The host expected them to be there.

But instead of eagerly coming to the feast, all of the guests insulted the host by refusing to attend, and they all gave very feeble excuses to defend their change in plans.

The first guest begged off because he had to “go and see” a piece of real estate he had purchased. In the East, the purchasing of property is often a long and complicated process, and the man would have had many opportunities to examine the land he was buying. Anybody who purchases land that he has never examined is certainly taking a chance. Since most banquets were held in the evening, the man had little daylight left even for a cursory investigation.

The second man had also made a purchase—ten oxen that he was anxious to prove. Again, who would purchase that many animals without first testing them? Not many customers in our modern world would buy a used car that they had not taken out for a “test drive.” Furthermore, how could this man really put these oxen to the test when it was so late in the day? His statement “I go to prove them!” suggests that he was already on his way to the farm when the servant came with the final call to the dinner.

The third guest really had no excuse at all. Since they involved so much elaborate preparation, Jewish weddings were never surprises, so this man knew well in advance that he was taking a wife. That being the case, he should not have agreed to attend the feast in the first place. Since only Jewish men were invited to banquets, the host did not expect the wife to come anyway. Having a new wife could have kept the man from the battlefield (Deut. 24:5) but not from the festive board.

Of course, these were only excuses. I think it was Billy Sunday who defined an excuse as “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” The person who is good at excuses is usually not good at anything else. These three guests actually expected to get another invitation in the future, but that invitation never came.

Having prepared a great dinner for many guests, the host did not want all that food to go to waste, so he sent his servant out to gather a crowd and bring them to the banquet hall. What kind of men would be found in the streets and lanes of the city or in the highways and hedges? The outcasts, the loiterers, the homeless, the undesireables, the kind of people that Jesus came to save (Luke 15:1-2; 19:10). There might even be some Gentiles in the crowd!

These men may have had only one reason for refusing the kind invitation: they were unprepared to attend such a fine dinner. So, the servant constrained them to accept (see 2 Cor. 5:20). They had no excuses. The poor could not afford to buy oxen; the blind could not go to examine real estate; and the poor, maimed, lame, and blind were usually not given in marriage. This crowd would be hungry and lonely and only too happy to accept an invitation to a free banquet.

Not only did the host get other people to take the places assigned to the invited guests, but he also shut the door so that the excuse-makers could not change their minds and come in (see Luke 13:22-30). In fact, the host was angry. We rarely think of God expressing judicial anger against those who reject His gracious invitations, but verses like Isaiah 55:6 and Proverbs 1:24-33 give a solemn warning that we not treat His calls lightly.

This parable had a special message for the proud Jewish people who were so sure they would “eat bread in the kingdom of God.” Within a few short years, the Gospel would be rejected by the official religious leaders, and the message would go out to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and then to the Gentiles (Acts 10; 13ff).

But the message of this parable applies to all lost sinners today. God still says, “All things are now ready. Come!” Nothing more need be done for the salvation of your soul, for Jesus Christ finished the work of redemption when He died for you on the cross and arose from the dead. The feast has been spread, the invitation is free, and you are invited to come.

People today make the same mistake that the people in the parable made: they delay in responding to the invitation because they settle for second best. There is certainly nothing wrong with owning a farm, examining purchases, or spending an evening with your wife. But if these good things keep you from enjoying the best things, then they become bad things. The excuse-makers were actually successful people in the eyes of their friends, but they were failures in the eyes of Jesus Christ.

The Christian life is a feast, not a funeral, and all are invited to come. Each of us as believers must herald abroad the message, “Come, for all things are now ready!” God wants to see His house filled, and “yet there is room.” He wants us to go home (Mark 5:19), go into the streets and lanes (Luke 14:21), go into the highways and hedges (Luke 14:23), and go into all the world (Mark 16:15) with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This parable was the text of the last sermon D.L. Moody preached, “Excuses.” It was given on November 23, 1899 in the Civic Auditorium in Kansas City, and Moody was a sick man as he preached. “I must have souls in Kansas City,” he told the students at his school in Chicago. “Never, never have I wanted so much to lead men and women to Christ as I do this time!”

There was a throbbing in his chest, and he had to hold to the organ to keep from falling, but Moody bravely preached the Gospel; and some fifty people responded to trust Christ. The next day, Moody left for home, and a month later he died. Up to the very end, Moody was “compelling them to come in.”

The Multitudes: False Expectancy (Luke 14:25-35)

When Jesus left the Pharisee’s house, great crowds followed Him, but He was not impressed by their enthusiasm. He knew that most of those in the crowd were not the least bit interested in spiritual things. Some wanted only to see miracles, others heard that He fed the hungry, and a few hoped He would overthrow Rome and establish David’s promised kingdom. They were expecting the wrong things.

Jesus turned to the multitude and preached a sermon that deliberately thinned out the ranks. He made it clear that, when it comes to personal discipleship, He is more interested in quality than quantity. In the matter of saving lost souls, He wants His house to be filled (Luke 14:23); but in the matter of personal discipleship, He wants only those who are willing to pay the price.

A “disciple” is a learner, one who attaches himself or herself to a teacher in order to learn a trade or a subject. Perhaps our nearest modern equivalent is “apprentice,” one who learns by watching and by doing. The word disciple was the most common name for the followers of Jesus Christ and is used 264 times in the Gospels and the Book of Acts.

Jesus seems to make a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is open to all who will come by faith, while discipleship is for believers willing to pay a price. Salvation means coming to the cross and trusting Jesus Christ, while discipleship means carrying the cross and following Jesus Christ. Jesus wants as many sinners saved as possible (“that My house may be filled”), but He cautions us not to take discipleship lightly; and in the three parables He gave, He made it clear that there is a price to pay.

To begin with, we must love Christ supremely, even more than we love our own flesh and blood (Luke 14:26-27). The word hate does not suggest positive antagonism but rather “to love less” (see Gen. 29:30-31; Mal. 1:2-3; and Matt. 10:37). Our love for Christ must be so strong that all other love is like hatred in comparison. In fact, we must hate our own lives and be willing to bear the cross after Him.

What does it mean to “carry the cross”? It means daily identification with Christ in shame, suffering, and surrender to God’s will. It means death to self, to our own plans and ambitions, and a willingness to serve Him as He directs (John 12:23-28). A “cross” is something we willingly accept from God as part of His will for our lives. The Christian who called his noisy neighbors the “cross” he had to bear certainly did not understand the meaning of dying to self.

Jesus gave three parables to explain why He makes such costly demands on His followers: the man building a tower, the king fighting a war, and the salt losing its flavor. The usual interpretation is that believers are represented by the man building the tower and the king fighting the war, and we had better “count the cost” before we start, lest we start and not be able to finish. But I agree with Campbell Morgan that the builder and the king represent not the believer but Jesus Christ. He is the One who mustcount the costto see whether we are the kind of material He can use to build the church and battle the enemy. He cannot get the job done with halfhearted followers who will not pay the price.

As I write this chapter, I can look up and see on my library shelves hundreds of volumes of Christian biographies and autobiographies, the stories of godly men and women who made great contributions to the building of the church and the battle against the enemy. They were willing to pay the price, and God blessed them and used them. They were people with “salt” in their character.

Jesus had already told His disciples that they were “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). When the sinner trusts Jesus Christ as Saviour, a miracle takes place and “clay” is turned into “salt.” Salt was a valued item in that day; in fact, part of a soldier’s pay was given in salt. (The words salt and salary are related; hence, the saying, “He’s not worth his salt.”)

Salt is a preservative, and God’s people in this world are helping to retard the growth of evil and decay. Salt is also a purifying agent, an antiseptic that makes things cleaner. It may sting when it touches the wound, but it helps to kill infection. Salt gives flavor to things and, most of all, makes people thirsty. By our character and conduct, we ought to make others thirsty for the Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that He alone can give.

Our modern salt is pure and does not lose its flavor, but the salt in Jesus’ day was impure and could lose its flavor, especially if it came in contact with earth. Once the saltiness was gone, there was no way to restore it, and the salt was thrown out into the street to be walked on. When a disciple loses his Christian character, he is “good for nothing” and will eventually be “walked on” by others and bring disgrace to Christ.

Discipleship is serious business. If we are not true disciples, then Jesus cannot build the tower and fight the war. “There is always an if in connection with discipleship,” wrote Oswald Chambers, “and it implies that we need not [be disciples] unless we like. There is never any compulsion; Jesus does not coerce us. There is only one way of being a disciple, and that is by being devoted to Jesus.”

If we tell Jesus that we want to take up our cross and follow Him as His disciples, then He wants us to know exactly what we are getting into. He wants no false expectancy, no illusions, no bargains. He wants to use us as stones for building His church, soldiers for battling His enemies, and salt for bettering His world; and He is looking for quality.

After all, He was on His way to Jerusalem when He spoke these words, and look what happened to Him there! He does not ask us to do anything for Him that He has not already done for us.

To some, Jesus says, “You cannot be My disciples!” Why? Because they will not forsake all for Him, bear shame and reproach for Him, and let their love for Him control them.

And they are the losers. Will you be His disciple?

Pride vs. Humility

Pride is the sin above all others that humans cherish, defend, and rationalize. We are proud of country, proud of education, and proud of achievement. We are proud to be recognized in public and to be sought out privately. We are proud of family name, company title, and educational rank. And it is not only the world but perhaps even more especially the church of God that fosters this haughty spirit. We are proud of our denomination or the claim to be un-denominational. We are proud of our own congregation of believers. We can quickly become sectarian, exclude others as unworthy to be included in our fellowship, and hold all who are different under judgment and in contempt.

Lest anyone misunderstand or misrepresent what I have just said, let me hasten to say that our English term pride is rather ambiguous. The word may be used to refer to healthy and honorable things. For example, there is a pride in self and family name that has helped some of us avoid the most shameful snares Satan has set. There is pride in country that brings us to our feet when the National Anthem is performed and causes young men and women to serve in the military. There is pride — we most often use the term “self-confidence” here — that allows one to acknowledge gifts from God, put those trusts to work for his glory, and expect him to use them for holy purposes. There is even pride in — we would probably choose “dignity of” or “respect for” — one’s faith heritage that anchors her to noble motives and worthy perspectives.

There are, indeed, at least two kinds of pride. One is the polar opposite of humility and shows itself in self-centeredness, eager criticism of others, impatience, self-pity, and the willingness to steal God’s glory by taking credit for things he has given to or done in a person’s life. This evil quality in one’s heart shows itself as condescending treatment of others. It generates enmity in families, strife in the workplace, and division in churches. It brings people to isolation and loneliness — which they interpret, of course, as standing on principle or defending the faith. This is the unhealthy and sinful pride so constantly denounced in Scripture. Just think of a few texts from Proverbs: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (11:2). “Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice” (13:10). “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished” (16:5). “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18). “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor” (29:23).

There is a virtuous sense of pride, however, that may be thought of as the polar opposite of stigma, shame, or personal insignificance. Jesus most certainly did not lack confidence, was not intimidated by challenge, and was not ashamed of his racial stock, social position, or religious heritage. Life didn’t threaten him. Critics didn’t deter him. Failure in the eyes of the world did not destroy his sense of identity as the faithful Son of God. He could bill himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29) and still be determined, strong, and courageous. The healthy and indispensable pride every believer needs is referenced several times in Paul’s writings. At least twice in writing to the church at Corinth, he spoke of taking pride in the people of that church: “”I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you” (2 Cor. 7:4a). “Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it” (2 Cor. 8:24). He wrote to Christians in Galatia to encourage them to personal spiritual responsibility and said: “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else” (Gal. 6:4).

By the same token, it might also be helpful to point out that there are also distinctions to be made about humility. The genuine humility of Christ’s obedience to the divine will (cf. Phil. 2:8) stands in sharp contrast to the pseudo-humility some people offer in the name of religion. Paul censured some people who were trying to make ascetics out of the church at Colosse by writing this: “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:23).

The Practical Meaning

Let me see if I can pull all this together. Let me try to fix the distinction between healthy and unhealthy pride, genuine and false humility. Let me offer you some things that might help us fix humility as a meaningful goal for our lives. It is, after all, a virtue to pray for but for which we can never give thanks.

Spirituality is learned and virtues are developed only in the frustrations of living. We have put Christianity in church buildings, Sunday School classes, and books, but it is first and foremost an experience-related faith. When we come to our buildings, attend our classes, and read the books, we should be reminded that we are then only reflecting on, getting perspective about, and getting ready to face again the realities of life. Christianity isn’t calm reflection and beautiful sunsets. It is Christ’s Spirit-presence in our midst on what is often a battlefield. Sickness, poverty, setbacks, discouragement, accidents, mistakes, ignorance, failure — these are the everyday terrain for the battle. Satan, death, sin — these are the specific tactics of evil that are trying to destroy us.

Failure is one of life’s best teachers. We are conditioned by our culture to see success and achievement as desirable and mistakes and failures as unpalatable. The reverse may actually be closer to the truth. Failure keeps us humble, and humility is frequently a good thing in the Kingdom of God. The devil would have a field day in ruining anyone’s character, spiritual life, and relationships, if he could grant that soul unbroken success in life. If churches and individual believers would be more honest about our failures and sinfulness, I suspect we’d be more effective in reaching unbelievers. No wonder the obvious strugglers and mess-ups avoid places where everybody puts on a happy face in order to look pious on Sunday. They get the impression they’re the only sinners in the crowd. Oh, we don’t have to become a group outdoing one another with tales of woe and sinfulness. But we can and must be honest about our weakness, failures, and sinfulness in order to avoid a holier-than-thou attitude. Peter sinned. Christ sought him out to forgive him. And Peter spent the rest of his life helping other sinners. There’s the model for all of us. Failure keeps us humble and honest with one another. It makes pretending unnecessary.

Be gracious in your triumphs and even more gracious in others’ failures. I was once called to help another church deal with a serious moral failure by its most visible and notable member. Sitting in a den with four elders of that church, I asked each to voice his most urgent concern. “We have to preserve our reputation in this town,” said one. “We have to serve notice to our own members that we won’t tolerate this sort of nonsense,” said another. “I just want him to know there is no excuse for what he’s done,” said the third, “and that he has set this church back ten years.” When the final brother spoke, it was softly and with tears. “God graciously rescued me from the same sort of humiliating failure thirteen years ago,” he said. “I am painfully aware every day of my weakness and vulnerability that would take me there again.” I asked him to be the one to take the lead in trying to reach that erring brother and quoted these words from Paul: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).

Know that your relationship with God is entirely of grace. No matter what gifts, triumphs, or successes you have had in this world, you have no ground of boasting in what you have done before God. Even if you stand head and shoulders above your fellows, you fall far short of his divine perfection. Jew and Gentile, black and white, male and female, company president or federal prisoner, top of the heap or lower than a snake’s belly — right standing with God is a gift of grace. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:22-24). We have no status or claim in ourselves. Everything is God’s gift to us through Christ. We stand only because we are in him.


John Bradley was one of six men forever immortalized in the famous photograph and now-equally-famous Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. He helped raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima. He never talked much about that event. When asked about his heroism on Iwo Jima, he would only say, “I just did what anyone else would have done” or “I was just doing my duty.” In the only taped interview he did on the subject, this was his comment: “I saw some guys struggling with a pole. I just jumped in to lend them a hand. It’s as simple as that.”

It was only after his death that John Bradley’s son learned from government documents what happened around that event. It was hardly as simple as his father had left him to think. Neither his wife nor son had known what happened half a century before. His wife would later say that he talked with her about it only one time — on their first date, for “seven or eight disinterested minutes and then never again in a 47-year-marriage did he say the words ‘Iwo Jima,'” she said.

Two days before the flag-raising, Bradley’s company was penned down by enemy fire on the beach. On February 21, 1945, with screams of the wounded and dying all around, Bradley saw a fellow-Marine fall wounded about 30 yards away. He was a Corpsman and immediately sprinted through what the official report called “merciless Japanese gunfire” to stabilize the wounded man and drag him back to safety. A few days after the flag-raising, he became a casualty himself when an artillery shell drove hot shrapnel into his feet, legs, and hips. Eyewitnesses said he would not tend to his own wounds until he had taken care of other wounded Marines around him.

All his life afterward, Bradley kept these exploits essentially private. He didn’t write about them. He didn’t sell his story to anyone. He didn’t even tell his wife and children what he had gone through. He insisted that he “really didn’t do much” and said simply, “I was just doing my duty.” Remember this story. We’ll have occasion to return to it later.

[1] This story is taken from James J. Bradley, “‘Uncommon Valor Was a Common Virtue,'” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 10, 2000, p. A18.

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Posted by on December 24, 2017 in Doctrine


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