As I read Jesus' parable of the guest taking the place of honor at the wedding, I thought of my dear, departed mother and the advice she gave me as I prepared to go to first grade. Mom was a product of the depression, and she told me that the first person I should get to know at my new school was the cook, for I would never go hungry if I knew her. The second person she told me to get to know was the school secretary, for she would always be there to help me. I remember wondering why I should not get to know my teacher or the principal, for they were more powerful. I followed my mother’s advice and quickly learned that knowing the seemingly humble was much more productive than knowing the seemingly exalted.
I also thought of my dear, departed, maternal grandmother. She lived in a small town in Nebraska until her death at age 96. She never drove a car, and she walked everywhere she needed to go in that town. As a child, I was impressed by the fact that she talked to everyone she encountered as I walked with her along the streets of the town. There were no strangers, and in that town, everyone seemed to pitch in to help their neighbors, no matter how humble or how exalted the neighbor might seem to be.
The lesson of my mother and my grandmother is very simple. We are all equals on this earth and in God’s eyes, and sometimes those who seem humble are actually very powerful. There are people who believe that they are exalted, and in most cases, the culture in which they live has given them this status. Are the ones we have made exalted really behaving as we might expect exalted folks to behave? Just as today’s Gospel reminds us that “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted,” so too, of those who are given much, much is expected. Whether celebrity or elected official, whether teacher or parent, whether religious leader or professional athlete, we give to those individuals and positions the exalted status they hold and exercise. And, yet, each is merely a human being in God’s eyes and perhaps more should be expected from each of them given the status we have given them.
From the teaching Jesus offers us today, I grasp the instruction to be humble. I do not necessarily expect to be exalted some day, but I truly value being humble, and I know that I should be more humble than I am. I know that I should extend myself and my resources to more than I do. I know that I should be more attentive to those who serve me, and I know that I should be much more grateful for the gifts and benefits that have been given to me. Humble is an attitude that I must work on each day and for which I must ask God’s help in my daily prayers. In addition to my prayers, each day, I can best practice humility by asking how I have humbled myself in the face of those who believe they are lesser than me. Then, I need to actually be that humble person in their eyes.
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