The difficulty with humility

Sunday readings in Brief 22 C

Eccl 3:19-21, 30-31; Ps 67 (68); Heb 12:18-19, 22-24; Lk 14:1, 7-14

The difficulty with humility

Dear friends, today is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time C. The readings today suggest to us the theme of humility. I would like to invite us to reflect upon our understanding of humility and why many find it difficult to embrace it. The internet dictionary defines humility as a “modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.” being humble is the virtue of not taking too seriously one’s position or thinking of oneself as too important. This is what we learn from today’s readings. However, this concept did not resonate very well with the people during the time of Jesus and even with us today.

While the Scriptures champion humility for all especially the wealthy and the mighty, the world elevates people with positions and wealth. This makes everyone desire to climb the ladder in society at all costs without minding trampling others on the way up. The passage from the book of Ecclesiasticus tells us “the greater you are, the more humbly you should behave”.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus observes how the guests were positioning themselves in the house of one leading Pharisee, and as usual, he uses the opportunity to teach. Things have not changed so much in our society today. Here in my mission, the people take their position and rank very seriously in the community. Even in the Church people are so much concerned about their dignity that sometimes we have disruptions when big men arrive in the Church late. People, especially the women, have to vacate the seats for the ranking arrivals, disrupting everything. Here the hierarchy of importance starts with the wealthy followed by the politicians, elders (men), elderly men, and at the bottom, women, and children.

In the first part of the Gospel passage, Jesus warns against assuming a position of honour in a ceremony without being accorded by the one who invited us or by the master of protocol, rest we become humiliated in case a more ranking guest arrives late. Jesus is teaching us not to sing our own praises. A Swahili refrains say, “do not let your own mouth praise you”.

In the second part, Jesus observes the kind of guests invited to the house of the Pharisee, most of them though varying in rank were wealthy people. Jesus teaches that when we extend our good deeds to those capable of repaying us, it is not charity but business. Therefore, we should not wait for any reward from our father in heaven. Charity is, therefore, the good deeds extended to people who have no means of paying us back, the marginalized, the poor, the hopeless, and those without positions.

The desire to be paid back has also found its way including in the ministers of the Gospel. They feel more attracted to bless the houses of the wealthy, celebrate the birthdays of the mighty, and eat meals in the houses of the rich. The poor only are scolded when they come late to the Church and only have their houses blessed during the mass blessing of the house scheduled occasionally. The rich do not need to follow the proper procedures to baptize their children but the poor struggle to get services even after fulfilling all the requirements. They have to make many trips before they are served.

In general society, the rich and high ranking do not queue in banks, public offices, or even in traffic. The poor on their part have their services postponed more than once. All this kind of disparities is what the readings today challenge us to change. In heaven, there will be no ranks or positions. “The first will be last and the last will be first” (Mt 20:16).

Dear friends, I invite us today to reflect upon the virtue of humility and find out how we position ourselves before others. Let us learn true humility that will make us great in heaven. The greater the position we have the greater the responsibility to serve the rest and the opportunity to be served or be worshipped.

Have a blessed Sunday

Fr. Lawrence Muthee, SVD   (svdkentan.com)

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