Father Donald Senior, CP

Those who exult themselves will be humbled

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Aug. 28: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Heb 12:18-19, 22- 24a; Lk 14:1,7-14

Not so long ago I attended a meeting at Misericordia Home, the extraordinary place here in Chicago that serves over 600 children and adults with developmental disabilities. The meeting was in preparation for “Candy Days,” one of its many annual fundraising events.

Terry, one of Misericordia’s most well-known and outgoing residents, was at the meeting and it happened to be his birthday. The host of the meeting congratulated Terry, noting he was lucky that the meeting of so many people was taking place on his birthday. Terry replied, “I was born lucky!”

The casual observer might be startled at that. Terry has some very visible disabilities and struggles but he truly believed what he said. His spirit of humility is praised in the Scripture readings for this Sunday.

I don’t know if the virtue of humility is in vogue these days. For some people being “humble” might recall the famous Charles Dickens’ character Uriah Heep. In the novel “David Copperfield,” Uriah Heep’s cloying “humility” was really a façade, a way of manipulating others and currying favor.

Genuine humility, the kind praised in today’s first reading from the Book of Sirach, is something very different. The author of Sirach urges his readers to “conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

Genuine humility comes from awareness of reality. Some suggest the word “humble” is from the Latin term humus, meaning “earth.” The humble person has his or her feet firmly planted on the ground and recognizes that ultimately everything is a gift from God: their life, their family, their health, their abilities, their opportunities.

True, some people work hard and make the most of their abilities and opportunities — and they deserve credit for doing so. But the fact remains that we come into this world totally dependent on others and our very being is a divine gift.

This fundamental realization is what grounds true humility. We recognize our dependence on God and are grateful. We recognize that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of God’s children. Therefore the humble person views others with respect, treats them with dignity and feels compassion for their sufferings and failings.

A famous passage from Matthew forms the Alleluia verse introducing today’s Gospel reading. Jesus invites his disciples: “Take my yoke upon you … and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” The Gospel reading today from Luke demonstrates that this understanding of humility was at the core of Jesus’ own life and teaching.

Observing how guests were jockeying to grab places of honor at a dinner in a Pharisee’s home, Jesus gives them some blunt advice, perhaps with a wry smile on his face. When you get invited to a wedding banquet, he says, don’t try to grab the highest place of honor (near the wedding couple or the host), lest you be embarrassed when the host comes along and moves you down the line to the cheap seats. Take the lowest place first and then you might be complimented by your host when he tells you to move up to a better spot.

The lesson is clear: “those who exalt themselves will be humbled but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

There is more to being genuinely humble than not having an inflated view of yourself, and this is what Jesus drives home at the conclusion of this passage. Jesus tells his Pharisee host, when you have a lunch or dinner, don’t invite your family and friends or your “wealthy neighbors” but instead “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”

Throughout the Gospels Jesus stands in solidarity with such people. Humility, divine realism, helps us be aware that the very people others may despise or underestimate are in fact our brothers and sisters in Christ. We treat them with dignity and respect while seeking to serve their needs.


  • scripture