As Luke does very often he uses a meal setting to share with us some teaching of Jesus. Jesus gives some advice for the guests and for the hosts. We are invited today to the Eucharistic banquet. But the invitation for us is also accompanied by a challenge. Today the name of the challenge is humility.
I read the book of the Prophet Zephaniah in the CATHOLIC YOUTH BIBLE. This commentary spoke powerfully to me: “Zephaniah gives a spiritual connotation to the word poor (translated as “lowly” in Zeph 3:12). He relates poverty to humility. In this sense, to be poor is to be empty of egoism and pride, and therefore open to God’s action in us. …To be spiritually poor is to be receptive to the Holy Spirit, to be generous with others, to trust in God’s providence, and to accept suffering without losing hope.” This insight opened up for me the true meaning of the 1st Beatitude as found in Luke 6:20 (“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”) and Matthew 5:3 (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”) Matthew seems to be aware of what the Prophet Zephaniah was saying.
When you hear the word “humility”, what do you think of? Humility is not a very popular virtue. The musical Godspel says: “It isn’t the earth that the meek inherit, it’s the dirt.” Today we heard Jesus say, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus also said, “Learn of me for I am gentle and humble of heart.” Mt. 11:29 Let us then together consider humility.
To meet a truly humble person is in my experience rare. Some years ago while visiting in a nursing home I met a truly humble man. He said to me after some conversation, “I only have half sense. I have wisdom and knowledge but I don’t have any education.” The sister that was visiting with me, and I talked about that later. We both agreed that we had the education but wished we had more of his wisdom and knowledge. We know many people with a great deal of education but wondered whether any of them would say they only have half sense. The humble person gives a true estimate of self. How difficult it is to have a true estimate of self. We always seem to err either thinking too much of ourselves or not enough of ourselves.
There are many ways in which we exalt ourselves by thinking too much of ourselves: boasting (“I could have gotten you a much better deal, price, etc.”) exaggerating, impatience, rigidity, compulsive talking, taking scandal at others, gossiping about other people (“I can’t stand so and so¼”)
But humility has also gotten a bad name by people who don’t think enough of themselves. Humility is not: an inferiority complex, feeling sorry for myself, the attitude, “Oh I could never do that¼” Humility is not fear.
True humility is spoken of in a different section of Sirach than we read in the first reading, Sirach 10:27 “ My son with humility have self esteem, prize yourself as you deserve.” (Spanish: “ Hijo mio, apreciate moderadamente y estimate en lo que vales.”) Humility means (as the first reading said) “what is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength search not.” We all must come to terms with our limitations, age, health, background, ability. Humility means being an attentive listener. Someone has remarked, “God gave us two ears and one mouth to teach us something.” Humility allows us to admit our mistakes, to forgive ourselves, others, God. True humility I believe will be accompanied with a sense of humor.
Jesus said, “learn of me for I am gentle and humble of heart.” When we look at Jesus we see the strength of humility. Jesus could wash the feet of his apostles. This takes humility but also strength. Jesus could eat and drink with sinners and outcasts. He could be criticized for doing this and yet continue doing it. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus could greet Judas as friend. Jesus loved Peter even after Peter denied him. Jesus could say from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
Humility for Jesus was not purely passive (receiving from others). It was an active virtue. Jesus not only spoke about service, he served. Jesus not only talked about inviting the beggars, crippled, lame and the blind. He ate with beggars, he healed the crippled and lame and blind.
There is a double challenge in Jesus’ words to the host. By inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind there is no hope of these people repaying in kind. Secondly by inviting these people and associating with them, the host risks losing his own social standing.
So how do we become humble? I believe that the root of humility is the absence of self concern. It is the peace of knowing oneself accepted by God as one is and abandoning oneself to his love. We are made to the image and likeness of God. There is goodness and a spark of creation in all of us. We tend to make God into our image: accepting only when good, loving those who love us. God accepts us as we are (unfinished). We have to remind ourselves, “Be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.” God loves us when we are bad and when we are good. God loves us not for what we do but because we are.
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