Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): Today Sirach counsels, “Conduct your affairs with humility … Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” Christ promises us that “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Why is humility an integral part of Christian righteousness? Because it is humility that keeps us mindful of our inestimable privilege: We “have approached … Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.” Only humility disposes us to want what the Lord offers and to be ever receptive to His mercy in our midst. Humility ensures that our Gospel priorities are kept intact. “Humility recognizes God as He is … Humility and trust are what make a person truly human” (Pope Benedict XVI).
(This weekend's Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of Sirach.
My child, perform your tasks in meekness;
then you will be loved by those whom God accepts.
The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself;
so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord.
For great is the might of the Lord;
he is glorified by the humble.
The affliction of the proud has no healing,
for a plant of wickedness has taken root in him.
The mind of the intelligent man will ponder a parable,
and an attentive ear is the wise man's desire.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: What is “humility” in God's eyes? And what is not? This reading and the Gospel reading for this weekend explore the spiritual meaning of this word, which modern ears too often limit to perceptions of physical poverty (“he/she was born in humble circumstances”) or an attitude about oneself that dismisses one's own value or significance (“he/she was humble in accepting praise”).
Poverty is involved in God's definition of humility – the poverty of being “poor in spirit,” the attitude Jesus commends in the first of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). The humility of which the Church speaks is the polar opposite of pride, the first and oldest of the “seven deadly sins.” Pride drove the angel Lucifer – whom we know best as Satan – to refuse to serve the God who created him. Pride looks at earthly greatness with Lucifer's eyes, for it craves and demands that others serve the men and women whom the world declares to be great. Does not pride scoff at the idea that true greatness arises from selfless service to others? Does a proud person ever perform tasks with true “meekness”?
Jesus ben Sirach, the Jewish teacher who wrote this book some two centuries before Christ, could point to many of his people's ancestors for proper examples of humility. Abraham of course comes to mind, as does Samuel, the last judge, who anointed Israel's first two kings. Moses and David displayed humility throughout much of their respective lives (though the Hebrew Scriptures also tell of their occasional failures). Even so, one can imagine Greek and even Jewish skeptics among Sirach's townsmen in Alexandria, Egypt, dismissing him with words such as: “Well, of course every god expects his (or her) subjects to humble themselves in his (or her) presence!” God's supreme example of humility was yet to be presented to the Chosen People and, through them, to the world. How would the world react to the humility of a God who, worthy though He be of ceaseless praise and complete subservience as Creator of the universe, did not consider it beneath His dignity to become a human being, live among us, teach and serve us, die at our ancestors' hands and rise again – all so that we may live with Him for all time?
Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
A reading from the letter to the Hebrews.
Brothers and sisters: You have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: The Jewish people, then and yet today, could not process the paradox of an all-powerful, all-knowing God who would so personally equate greatness with humility. Their view of God was dominated by the image recounted in this reading's first sentence, the image originally presented in Exodus 19 as “I AM THAT I AM” manifested Himself in His true nature to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. True, they could grasp in such a terrifying setting that they were as nothing before Him. Thus the writer of Hebrews paints a contrasting picture of our salvation that his Jewish Christian readers would have found easier to grasp. The God we see here is just as powerful, just as awe-inspiring, just as all-surpassing of our understanding – but also totally accessible through His Son, who said of Himself: “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
All true. But since this weekend's subject is humility, one ought to ponder whether Israel ever grasped the full implications of the time when their father Abraham experienced a sampling of God's future arrival as “the Word made flesh.” Catholics and other liturgical Christians heard the story again over two weekends just a few weeks ago. Remember when God Himself took human form with two of His angels, visited Abraham and Sarah and ate at their table, personally declared the coming birth of Isaac and even discussed Sodom's fate face-to-face with Abraham? Would the Jews among whom Jesus lived, preached and ministered then have been more open to recognizing that though no human being can be God, God can become a human being? (To review the author's meditations on God's theophany to Abraham, please click here: http://www.examiner.com/article/meditations-on-scriptures-16th-sunday-or... and http://www.examiner.com/article/meditations-on-scriptures-17th-sunday-or...).Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, O Lord.
One sabbath when Jesus went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, "When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, `Give place to this man,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, `Friend, go up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." He said also to the man who had invited him, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just."
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: One might hope a Pharisee or two at this dinner had come to recognize that their God, having once taken our form briefly to visit Abraham, had done so again for a more extended period. Maybe a few of them – men with the openness of a Nicodemus or a Joseph of Arimathea – realized after the Resurrection and Ascension just Who had dined with them. In any case, the bulk of Jesus' observers were so obsessed with discrediting Him that they would not have understood what the carpenter's son from Nazareth was trying to tell them here.
It was quite commonplace among the leading and wealthy Jews to exchange dinner invitations and for the guests to jockey for places in the “pecking order” as a way of touting their own importance. Jesus certainly was taking the host and guests at this dinner to task for letting their senses of pride and self-importance run rampant (as He later would do in the Upper Room when His own disciples started arguing about who was the greatest). But He just as certainly was not encouraging them to rush to the back of the room in the hope of being singled out by the host and thus being promoted in the presence of “all the right people”!
The final verses bring us back to the appropriate exercise of humility. The endless chain of banquets – no doubt all sumptuously supplied – had a way of emphasizing a separation between the leading Jews and their far poorer kinsmen and kinswomen. In urging the attendees to instead share their blessings of food and drink with those unable to repay, Jesus invites them to be “poor in spirit.” And surely He knew whereof He spoke – for He was (and is!) the only human being born of woman in world history to fully understand and live out the nature of true humility.
If the God who made everything and everyone – to whom we owe everything – would deign to come to us as one of us and serve us even unto death, then surely we must imitate Him! We must make the motivation of His humility our own – the motivation that comes only from total, unconditional, selfless and self-sacrificing agape love. May we resolve once more to replace our misplaced pride with authentic humility and “go forth to love and serve the Lord” by serving each other for a lifetime.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be