A true hero died last week, and for as long as men honour courage and humility, the name of Neil Alden Armstrong will be revered.
In a sense he will be remembered for one step, and one sentence which he himself had crafted. But what a step, and what a sentence!
The words that travelled back from the moon on 21st July, 1969: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, epitomised the staggering audacity of the American space programme, fulfilling the promise of the murdered President Kennedy.
Born in Ohio, the young Armstrong developed a passion for flying at the age of six, when his father took him on his first flight. Neil had his pilot’s licence before he even had a driving licence, and flew missions as a navy pilot during the Korean war.
The man who could fly fighters at a speed of approximately 4,000 miles per hour developed a reputation as someone who remained cool in a crisis.
That quality, and his lack of ego, eventually led to his being chosen to lead the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, rather than the more extrovert or chippy colleagues such as Buzz Aldrin.
Nor did the moon walk alter that unassuming character. He remained a gentle private man, resisting the temptation to profit from his fame through product endorsements or the writing of a memoir. Humility is a rare commodity, but Neil Armstrong had it in spadefuls.
Indeed, it is reported that two years ago, while playing with his grandson, a television news bulletin mentioned the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing, and Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon’s surface.
The grandson turned to his grandfather, and said, in all innocence, “Grandad, that’s funny, that man had the same name as you.”
Some folk love to advertise their achievements. One American business tycoon often began his speeches by reminding his audience that he was the President of six companies, while of a University professor, someone remarked that the was the only person who could strut while be was sitting.
And the perfectly serious comment,”There is only one good book on humility. I wrote it myself”, has been attributed to the celebrated campaigner, Lord Longford.
The humility of Jesus received its most striking demonstration on the night he washed the disciples feet. Although he himself was in need of ministry, with Calvary lying ahead of him, and while his quibbling disciples were jockeying for positions in his forthcoming Kingdom, he laid aside his glory with his garments, and washed their dusty feet (John 13; 1-17).
The prophet had the humble Messiah in mind when he predicted, “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.”(Isaiah 42; 2,3).
Just as His purity ‘does all our lusts condemn’, so before his humility, we should ‘pour contempt on all our pride.’