Mar. 30, 2017

TWENTY SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, C.

THE REWARD FOR HUMILITY 

Today's first reading is a simple straight to the point on humility. The teacher Ben Sirach wrote his book over two hundred years before Christ. He talks to us like a father talking to his child before the child goes back to school. He is primarily portraying here the reward for humility in the individual's life. The famous Saint Augustine, we were told was asked to name three greatest virtues in Christian life to which his response was: First is humility; second is humility; third is humility. 

In the first place, humility attracts human admiration. "My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts", says Sirach. Humility means modesty or having a low view of one's own importance. One who conducts his affairs with humility is a person who places other people's interest ahead of his. Such a person volunteers, serves, dedicates himself without counting cost. Compared with a giver, generosity is also a great virtue. One who gives is loved and appreciated. But Sirach makes us to understand that the humble person is loved more than a giver of gifts. The giver might expect recognition while the humble person relies on the grace of service. For example, some persons become philanthropic because they intend to build their resume. They do favors for political reasons. 

"The greater you are", he says, "the more humbly you should behave, and you will find favor with the Lord" (Sir.3:18). Think of how what you acquire influences you. Does your academic title condition your behavior? Does your material wealth make you feel different? Does your spiritual growth give you a sense of superiority? Sirach invites us to look to God and recognize that there is nothing we have that didn't come from him. In his letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul writes, "For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1Cor.4:7). 

Second, humility attracts favor from God. God loves humble persons. He recognizes the poor in spirit and blesses them (cf. Matt.5:3). The Blessed Virgin Mary is an example of a humble person lifted up in a special way by God. She sang in the Magnificat, "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; because he has looked upon the humility of his handmaid. Yes, from now onwards all generations shall call me blessed" (Lk.1:46-48). God hates the proud because their hearts are coarse and filthy. When Saint Peter was advising young people on how to behave before elders, he said, "Humility towards one another must be the garment you all wear constantly because God opposes the proud but accords his favor to the humble" (1Pet.5:5). 

Humility helps the individual to set reasonable goals. Ecclesiasticus writes, "What is too sublime for you, seek not". That implies self-contentment. The humble person is not greedy. Once a person is contented with what she has, she enjoys peace of mind. She enjoys internal joy and happiness. Such a person does not look at what others have. She doesn't contest with what she needs to have. She doesn't lose sleep thinking of how to possess more because another person has achieved it. A person of self-contentment is convinced, she thinks more of God than of human beings. 

In the gospel, Jesus gives a practical approach to the issue of humility. He attends a party and observes how the people are scrambling for places of honor. In the Jewish settings, the convention of place-cards had not come into fashion. So, the people are called to the "high table" in order of social and financial status. A "high table" is elevated and specially decorated at events such as weddings, anniversaries, etc. The "high table" is where special dignitaries, "high personalities" sit. They are usually served special food, special wine, special desserts because they give higher donations than the ordinary people at the "low table". This was what Jesus noticed that made him to condemn such attitude of self-recognition and self-exaltation. In the end, he remarked, "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but one who humbles himself will be exalted". 

The second part of the gospel draws our attention to the physically challenged in the society. Sometimes they are neglected. The proud dismiss them, see them as inferior. They are not recognized as being part of the community. Christ says, "When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you" (Lk.14:14). We need greater awareness of the experiences of the handicapped. Christ wants us to associate with them like any other person. 

Let's think of Jesus himself. His presence among his disciples was a great lesson on humility. In the encounter with James and John, the other disciples started murmuring and complaining about who was the greatest. Jesus cautions them, "No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all". And he concludes, "For the Son of man himself came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk.10:43-45). Humility means service, and is expressed in service. Jesus is Lord. He is God. He is Master. Yet he loved to serve. He washed the feet of his disciples. He visited those who were sick. He associated with the crippled, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the mute. He helped beggars. He fed the hungry. He had great affection for little children. His life was totally given up in service. 

Saint Paul gives us one of the greatest pictures of the life of Jesus, "Who being in the form of God did not count equality with God, something to be grasped. But he emptied himself taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross" (Phil. 2:6-8). The life of Jesus defines humility, and Jesus invites us today to the life of humility- service for others. Anyone who humbles himself will be exalted. Jesus was himself exalted, "For God gave him the name which is above every name, so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus" (Phil.2:10). Mary humbled herself and was exalted by God, "...for all generations shall call me blessed". It is good to know today that there is no arrogant or proud Saint ever. If every Saint was humble, that means we must be humble to make sainthood. A husband has to be humble, a wife, a son, a daughter, a student, employee... 

Let me give you some tips or red flag to watch out as signs against humility in your life. When the inner voice tells you:

  • It must be the way I want it, otherwise it doesn't work.
  • I can't shift my position, I know I'm always correct.
  • By the way, I didn't receive acknowledgements, not even a thank you from that guy.
  • Who are you to give me advice, corrections or suggestions?
  • I feel jealous when attention is on another person.
  • I don't think I make mistakes.
  • I can't volunteer for those mean jobs. 

Just know that humility does not crush your self esteem, rather it boosts your public image. It makes you a better person. It makes you loved by others and above all, by God. May God endow us with the spirit of humility for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Amen.