The Olympic Games have just been concluded in Rio last week. Each time these Games come around, they give us examples of how far some participants will go in order to get to the top, even risking disgrace and termination of their careers by taking drugs. Closer to home, it is so clear that people make big sacrifices in order to be first, just for the feeling that they are a step ahead of everyone else. Most of us have had the experience of a relative or friend who always likes to take center stage.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus takes note of this common human weakness. He observes people rushing forward to take the most honorable seats at a meal, and he doesn’t approve of it. He comments;” Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled….” On another occasion he warned people that the first would be last and the last first. Jesus seems to be making a basic point here about discipleship. He expects of his disciples that they should be willing to take the last place, probably because the desire to be first reveals a preoccupation with oneself. Self-centered discipleship is a contradiction in terms – disciples should look to their master. The crucifix is a great teacher of humility. We are challenged by the Lord’s words to move from a life that is centered on self to a life that is centered on God and others. Humility is as important for a Christian as radar is for an airplane. The word ‘humility’ comes from the Latin word humus or ground. So, ‘humility’ basically means ‘keeping our feet on the ground’. It is the virtue of honesty about ourselves, about our soul and about our need for God’s grace.
The first reading from the Book of Sirach challenges us to live a life of humility that is, without pretense, neither inflating nor deflating our achievements. The author praises the person who is humble. A humble person is conscious of his/her weaknesses, and never rejects wisdom, no matter where it comes from; wisdom to recognize what one can do and to realize the things one cannot do. The psalmist extols the graciousness of God who showers goodness on the needy and gives a home to those whom others have forsaken. Clearly such recipients of God’s goodness are not able to repay God nor are they obliged to do so. The providence of God is pure gift.
Humility, and its opposite, pride have to do with an inner attitude to ourselves, to others, and to God. For us humans, concealing who we really are, is generally the task of the ego which always imagines that we are more than we really are. Not only does the ego defend us against the truth about ourselves but it is also occasionally against ‘perceived enemies’ with an array of vicious weapons such as lies, bullying, gossip and slander. For the Christian to live in humility, he /she must find a way to disarm the ego, strip it of its power and uncover its lies. This is a task of a life time which without the grace of God the struggle would be almost unsurmountable. Humble people have no need to be self-assertive; they have no need to hold grudges; to be jealous of the gifts of others; to be constantly competing for attention; to hate themselves or judge their neighbor. Humble people will find it easy to forgive because they know their own sins and the need for forgiveness.
Every Sunday we are invited to a banquet- the banquet of the Eucharist. Here Jesus is the host, and we are his guests. There are no special places, you can sit where you wish because before God all of us are equal. It is the not the place that honors the guest; it is the guest that honors the place. May God to bring to perfection our gifts so that we truly acknowledge that whatever we have is a pure gift from God.