HUMILITY IS ONE OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SAINTS
(A biblical reflection on the 22nd Ordinary Sunday [Year C] – 28 August 2016)
Gospel Reading: Luke 14:1.7-14
First Reading: Sirach 3:17-18.20.28-29; Psalms: Psalm 68:4-7.10-11; Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-19.22-24
One Sabbath when He went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged the Pharisees, they were watching Him.
Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He marked how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host come he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:1.7-14 RSV)
A precise seating arrangement is something we would reserve for only the most formal dinners, but at the time of Jesus it was almost a part of daily routine. To receive a place of honor at the dinner table was for them a mark of great personal distinction. Everyone hoped to be given the highest place possible. Jesus neither approved nor condemned the social etiquette of His day, but He took the occasion of this dinner to teach an important lesson: pride has no plac in the Kingdom of God. Humility is necessary if we wish to be pleasing to God and to be accepted into His Kingdom. This humility taught by Jesus is one of the characteristics of the saints.
Saints are, of course, extraordinary people, but one of the most extraordinary things about them is their humility. Frankly, their humility at times seems to border on the unreal. Take St. Paul the Apostle, for example. His writings make up a large portion of the New Testament, and we frequently hear his letters read at Mass. Paul was indeed a great man, full of love for Christ and his fellow human beings, a man of wisdom and zeal. And yet he spoke of himself as the worst sinners (1Tim 1:15). See the two famous saints, St. Francis of Assisi [1181-1226] and St. Vincent de Paul [1581-1660]. Each of them spent a life time in the service of others. Each of them referred to himself as “a miserable wretch”. Paul and these two saints are but three examples among many.
The reason the saints could sincerely feel such deep humility was that they compared themselves with God, and not with their fellow men. Their faults, their failures, their weaknesses were manifestly clear to themselves in the brilliant light of God’s perfection. If we could only learn to compare ourselves with God, how could we feel anything but humility?
Pride comes from a false point of comparison. These days, it is commonplace to read in the papers or hear on television about people whose lack of morals is notorious. It is easy to feel pretty proud of ourselves in comparison with this type of person. The comparison makes us feel complacent, and the desire for such a comfortable feeling is behind a lot of prejudice, racial and otherwise. Looking down on others gives us a sense of personal elevation. If we live among giants, we are just small creatures, but if we could manage to live among pygmies, we would think of ourselves as giants.
A pride that is produced by comparing ourselves with despicable people, or with people that we may consider as despicable, is condemned by Jesus. The complacency it begets inhibits our spiritual growth, and even from a natural point of view puts us in an unhealthy state of mind. God’s own perfection is the ideal toward which we must strive. We will never reach this ideal – but keeping the ideal, this proper perspective on life, should be a healthy incentive to keep on trying to improve ourselves. By our own unaided powers, we cannot even begin to be more God-like.
The saints in their humility were profound realists. Because of their humility, God has exalted them in His heavenly Kingdom. We too, with God’s help, must work toward that same exaltation by trying to practice the humility taught us by Jesus today.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, Almighty ever-living God, You have given us a high goal: Your own holiness. Of ourselves we can do nothing. Only You can help us. Please give us the help we need to better ourselves. We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jakarta, 26 August 2016
A Christian Pilgrim