First Reading: Sirach 3:17–18, 20, 28–29; Psalm 68:4–7, 10–11; Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18–19, 22–24; Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7–14
Psalm 68:4–7, 10–11
But let the righteous be joyful;
let them exult before God;
let them be jubilant with joy.
Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds—
his name is the Lord—
be exultant before him.
Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land.
Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
you restored your heritage when it languished;
your flock found a dwelling in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.
Reading the Word
First Reading: Sirach 3:17–18, 20, 28–29
My child, perform your tasks with humility;
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.
Neither seeks what is too difficult for you,
nor investigate what is beyond your power.
The mind of the intelligent appreciates proverbs,
and an attentive ear is the desire of the wise.
As water extinguishes a blazing fire,
so almsgiving atones for sin.
Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18–19, 22–24
You have not come to something that can 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 beg that not another word 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 firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7–14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you have been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Hearing the Word
“Humility through Caring”
The theme of humility dominates the readings of this Sunday. Each discussion on humility takes place in its own unique context, revealing a particular aspect of this important and multifaceted virtue. Today’s liturgy discusses humility in connection with a caring concern for others.
The reading from the book of Sirach consists of two parts – exhortations and a proverb. The exhortations call the reader to practice humility in three concrete ways. First, a humble person is to perform his or her tasks in society with fidelity and conscientiousness, as opposed to those who would be negligent and lax in their commitments. Second, a humble person is not to use his or her social status as a pretext to take advantage of others. The greater the social status a person holds, the more service must he or she render to others. Finally, a humble person does not attempt to pursue the status of knowledge that is beyond his or her capacities and strengths. Here, humility is about an honest assessment of one’s abilities and fulfilling one’s potential to its fullest, rather than pursuing unachievable goals beyond one’s reach.
After this exhortation, Sirach praises those who listen attentively to the proverbs, which are a means to teach wisdom. Proverbs are short, skilfully crafted statements that employ ordinary images to convey powerful messages and instructions for wise living. The reading concludes with a powerful proverb that crowns the message of the entire reading. The proverb compares water to almsgiving and a blazing fire to sin. Almsgiving and water have the same effect – both stop a destructive force. Fire destroys by turning to ashes, sin destroys by isolating a person from God and others. The connection between humility and almsgiving becomes obvious here. Humility, among other things, means performing one’s duties in society and the community. Almsgiving is one of the ways to fulfill these obligations because it reflects a genuine concern for others. Furthermore, performing acts of almsgiving removes the sin of indifference, and failures in charity manifested through the neglect and indifference towards others. Like water which quenches the fire, so almsgiving removes the sin resulting from the failure to perform a humble service in the community.
The theme of humility through caring forms the background for the second reading. The author of Hebrews shows that the caring humility of God expressed itself through the self-sacrifice of Jesus. The author makes his point by a highly imaginative comparison between two covenants.
When the first covenant was made, the Israelites came to the foot of Mount Sinai. There, God manifested his grandeur and glory through the magnificent natural phenomena of thunder, fire, tempest and the loud voice which frightened and overwhelmed the Israelites. The people were ordered not to touch or even approach the mountain of God’s dwelling on the penalty of death (cf. Exod 19:12-16). This was an overwhelming manifestation of God as the Lord of creation, the Holy One whom no ordinary mortal could approach.
With the second covenant, the people are invited to come to another mountain, Zion, and enter the heavenly city of God, joining a glorious assembly of the angels and the righteous who already inhabit it. This new covenant was made by Jesus who, by shedding his blood on the cross, removed the barriers that separated the sinful people from their holy God. Thanks to Jesus, the faithful can now enter the assembly of God’s people and be joined to their God. Significantly, the author compares the blood of Jesus with the blood of Abel. The book of Genesis states the blood of the righteous Abel who was murdered by his brother was “crying out to God from the ground”. It was a cry for vengeance and punishment for the murderer, Cain, who was subsequently cursed (Gen 4:10-12). The blood of Jesus “cried” from the cross with a very different voice. It cried words of forgiveness and reconciliation that brought sinful humanity back to God.
This reading reveals how God acted through Jesus to bring people to himself. This is not the remote and frightening God of the Sinai covenant but a God who acts with love and humility. God’s humility manifests itself through Jesus, who humbles himself to the point of accepting a shameful death on the cross (cf. Phil 2:8). His death is the ultimate expression of God’s caring concern for the salvation of his people. Thus, God, who is a majestic and Holy creator of the universe, is also a humble God who brings mortal people to himself through the self-giving offering of his son.
The gospel reading describes Jesus’ third and final meal with the Pharisees in the Gospel of Luke. At the time, one’s place at the banquet table was strictly determined by social rank, each guest would know exactly where to sit. The guests in the story behave strangely, claiming the highest places for themselves without any consultation with the host. Jesus points out that such behaviour would only lead to public humiliation and shame, as those who took the highest seats would be asked to step down and thus lose face before all present.
The foolish behaviour of the guests serves to make a point. Jesus teaches that one’s dignity and status cannot be determined apart from others. In the story, the host at the banquet determines the position where one is to sit. In life, what a person thinks of himself or herself must be verified on the grounds of the relationship he or she has with others. According to Jesus, how you relate to others determines where you stand in God’s eyes. Those who seek to elevate themselves by empty claims will suffer humiliation. Those who assume the humble position of servants will be recognized and elevated.
The second part of the gospel presents an example of actions that befit a humble servant. Appealing to the social conventions of the time, Jesus alludes to the custom of reciprocity. When invited to a banquet, a guest would be obliged to reciprocate and invite the host in his turn. It made sense to invite the wealthy because one would be invited by them in turn to an even more sumptuous meal. Instead, Jesus calls for inviting those who cannot repay in any manner – the poor and the ill. This would indeed be an act of disinterested concern for the less fortunate and vulnerable members of the community. Such disinterested concern provides the basis for judging a person’s true standing before God and is an example of what that humble service entails.
All three readings link humility with a genuine concern for those in need. For Sirach, a wise person acts in accordance with his or her social status, and fulfills corresponding social obligations, particularly through almsgiving. In Hebrews, we see the holy and all-powerful God who chose to bring ordinary and mortal human beings to himself through the saving death of his son. Jesus went humbly to the cross and shed his blood for the sake of forgiveness and reconciliation, not vengeance. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches that self-exaltation leads to humiliation: good relationships and concern for the vulnerable lead to true greatness. The faithful are thus called to the practice of humility expressed through care, imitating the one whom the Psalmist calls, “the Father of orphans and protector of widows.”
Listening to the Word of God
Today’s liturgy invites us to a life of humility and concern for others. All the readings encourage us to emulate Christ who, through humility, removed the barrier between God and us.
The first reading portrays a person of integrity who knows and acknowledges the truth about himself. In this reading, humility is well defined as an honest assessment of one’s strengths and weaknesses, without pretense or vain pursuit of unattainable goals.
Many of us become frustrated when we do not achieve our goals. Sometimes, even though aware of our capabilities, we still aim for unreachable goals. Doing so we engage in futile pursuit, becoming like a person who imagines seeing ocean waves while standing in the middle of a desert. To prevent such mistakes, we must honestly acknowledge our capabilities.
Such humility will enable us to make the best use of what we already have and walk the path of life that will be most fruitful for ourselves and others. It will also allow us to be of service to others through humble service. Our ability to use God’s gifts to best effect rests on the humble acknowledgment of what they are.
The second reading invites us to look at Christ who, out of his humble love for fallen humanity, shed his blood for us. His humility showed itself through his self-sacrifice, it was humility through care. Jesus’ caring humility teaches us that we are also called to care for others. When we see the needs of others, humility teaches us to give ourselves to meet them, at least in some measure. As Jesus wanted us to experience the God of the new covenant, the non-terrifying, and approachable God, we too are to help others experience the closeness and care of God the Father through our reaching out to them.
The Gospel clearly describes the rewards of humility. When a person is humble, others esteem him or her and respect them for what they are. They are seen as people of integrity who are at home with themselves and with others. When people realize that you are genuine, they esteem you even more and want to associate with you.
On some level, we all desire to be acknowledged and respected by others. The way to such esteem is generosity and self-sacrifice. However, acts of kindness, if not reciprocated, can easily lead to frustration and disillusionment. Indifference to what we do can discourage us from seeking respect in the right way. Instead, we might be tempted to seek recognition and esteem by showing others that we are more capable or better than they are. This is the wrong way. The Gospel invites us to practice kindness without expecting a reward for our deeds. Our humility should be one that leads us to care for and serve others counting only on the reward from our heavenly Father. Jesus practiced his humble service in such a way, and so must we.
In conclusion, as the disciples of Jesus in the present times, we ought to witness to God’s generosity with our lives. The heavenly Father continues to bless and be with us even in trying moments. We can do the same by being our true selves and being with our brothers and sisters with humility and generosity.
“To wash your hands clean you must wash them together.”
Am I a humble person in the sense described in today’s readings?
In what ways do I show my humility and generosity? Do I expect a reward for such acts?
Response to God
I will daily thank God, the Lord of the universe, for making himself approachable and close to me, a lowly human being.
Response to your World
I will carry out some works of charity not for those I know but to people who I do not know and who might never be able to pay me back.
As a community of believers, we shall pick an act of service to be done for each member within the group as a sign that we are together to serve each other.
Jesus, my humble and caring Savior, teach me to be truthful to myself and to reach out to others as you did. May I never stray from your path. Help me to become like you – a humble servant of the Father. Amen
Scripture quotations from The New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.