Preparing for Sunday anticipating this day.Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalms 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Uriah Heep, a character in David Copperfield, promoted himself persistently as being “umble.” As it turns out, of course, he was anything but “umble.”
Recently a professional football player signed a contract for seventy-five million dollars to play eight years. His comment to reporters was that he was going to remain “humble” and he was going to try to help his team. He too has been anything but “humble.”
In today’s First Reading from the Book of Sirach, we get a little indication of just what exactly is this “humble” or humility. Humility has something to do with acting, but not playing or pretending. It has to do with the realization that we are a gift and when gratefully given to others, we will be loved more than a “giver of gifts.” The more gifted a person is the more she or he has received and they know that. Gratitude and humility are the same. The more humble a person is the more that person finds the favor that God has shown that person.
Perhaps another way to understand humility is in the experience of accepting one’s limits contained within one’s gifts. My exercise partner and I often laugh when I try to lift more than I really can. I pretend humility when I can lift a weight less times one day than the day before. I tell him that I am accepting humbly what I can’t do. Inside, I am rather humiliated and embarrassed by my manly frailty. “Next time,” I whisper to myself. This is not humility, because I really have not been grateful for this temporary limitation.
Today’s Gospel sounds like instructions from a popular guide to politeness and personal etiquette. There is some serious watching going on. Jesus is invited by a leading Pharisee, on a Sabbath, to dinner. The scene is set. The other guests are hungry to observe the ritual actions which Jesus would perform, or not. Jesus does some watching of His Own and draws attention to their truth behind their pretense.
He first notices how important it seems that they sit in places of honor nearest their host. He catches them trying to be more than they are. They are hoping that by sitting in a certain place, the uncertainty of who they are might not be observed. Jesus’ antidote seems a bit manipulative too. Take the last seat and the host will notice your humility and raise you up. This parable would have caught the ear of His fellow guests and the readers of Luke’s Gospel as it does our own.
The ego is so whimpering and needy that we must pray with its needs and demands. If I take the lowest seat, so as to win esteem by being noticed and advanced higher, then I have forgotten the fact that my real esteem is from being invited to the banquet at all. If I need others to give me esteem, then it is really flattery and is just that, flat. The exaltation which comes from humbling one’s self is not to be experienced in this world’s banquet.
The word humble comes from the same word as human and humus, which means soil or earth. Real humility is the awareness and acceptance of who and what we are. We are of the earth and it is to this earthliness that Jesus entered and remains. Pride results from forgetting or denying the truth which Jesus came to recreate by embracing His own humanity.
The second observation which Jesus makes in today’s Gospel is, while looking around the room, directed toward the host himself. Here we are given a major theme of Luke’s Gospel. Who should be invited to large parties and receptions? Jesus notices the healthily wealthy men around the table and chides the host for his choice of guests.
Jesus is making a statement as well about whom He is inviting to
the “Heavenly Banquet.” When inviting guests, choose the poor, physically
challenge and those who can not pay you back. These are the humble
because they accept their condition as poor, limited, and needy.
Although our egos find this difficult to admit, we, as human beings, are
poor, physically challenge, and limited. We are invited, though,
to God’s reception, and that is our dignity and destiny.
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