To read the texts click on the texts: Sir 3:17-20;28-29; Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a; Lk14:1, 7-14
“Humility is a funny thing. Once you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it.” Humility is a major theme of the readings of today. If the first reading from Sirach begins with the advice to perform one’s tasks with humility, in the Gospel text of today, Jesus advises choosing the lowest place as a practical way of performing one’s tasks.
At the cursory level, one might assume that Jesus is giving a lesson on table manners, or providing a strategy by which one can gain honour. This is true, but is only a small part of the story. A deeper reading reveals that there is much more. Since Jesus is not asking his listeners to choose a lower place but instead, the last place, the point he is making is more than just strategy. He is advocating humility.
Humility is possible only when a person realizes that his / her true worth does not come from external recognition but from within. If one is convinced in one’s heart that one is worthy, special, and unique, then one will not need to compare oneself with another or try to be better than another. One is content with one’s self. Like happiness, humility is an inside job.
Humility is without guile. It does not seek to bring others down. Rather, it seeks to raise others higher. This the humble person can do because he / she is secure in him / herself. The humble person expects no compensation, no recompense, and no reward. Such a person is able to follow Jesus’ instructions and invite those who cannot repay. Such a person can invite those who do not have capacity to do anything in return. Such a person can act in a manner that is free and liberating. Such a person acts from the heart.
We live in a world that judges mainly by externals. One reason why cosmetic companies are so successful is because most people lay too much stress on the externals. How one dresses, what clothes one wears, what perfume one uses, are questions of extreme importance for so many. Many want, not only to be recognized but also, to be commended, applauded, and praised. Some will go to any extent to seek and search for this. There is, in most of our relations, a quid pro quo or, ‘something for something.’ We are good to others if they are good to us. We do favours for others in the hope that they will return the favours when we need them. We reach out to others in the hope that we will be noticed and in the hope that they will, in turn, reach out to us. We live artificial, false, empty lives in the hope that we will be given the importance and value we seek. Those of us who live in this manner have already received our reward.
The call and the challenge of the readings of today are to a different way of life. The readings call us first to live from within, to live from our hearts. They call us to rest assured in the fact that each of us, no matter how tall or short, no matter how fair or dark, and no matter how thin or fat, is a unique, special and precious person. We each have our special place in the world and no one can take that place. Thus, we have simply to be ourselves and accept ourselves fully. We do not need to compare ourselves with others or try to usurp the place of someone else. We do not need to do good deeds in the hope of those deeds being returned to us or in the hope of receiving a reward. We must do the good we do because it is good to do good.
This is possible for those of us who profess to be disciples of Jesus since he has shown us how. The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews makes abundantly clear that, in Jesus, we are blessed. In Jesus, we have come, not to a blazing fire that cannot be touched or to darkness or gloom or tempest. Rather, we have come to one who, through his death on the Cross, has shown us the true meaning of humility. We have come, in Jesus, to one who has shown us how we can do good for others without any expectation of reward. We have come, in Jesus, to one who has shown us what it means to take the last place, and to be exalted even in our humility.