Scripture Readings: Book of Sirach 3:17-18,20,28-29; Letter to the Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24; Gospel According to Saint Luke 14:1,7-14

“The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself.” It’s a very wise saying from the Book of Sirach, the first reading for this Sunday’s Mass. This advice, to be humble no matter what our vocation is in life, refers to an interior disposition, which manifests itself in conduct of gentleness and kindness. No follower of Christ should be above or beyond such a stance.

To be truly humble means acceptance of being a creature and not being God, admitting one’s imperfections and depending on God for all that may be good within us. The opposite of humility, of course, is pride. Scripture warns that the proud are to be pitied, not because they are intrinsically evil, but because that they are unable to see the truth, to admit their need for God.

The humble, on the other hand, are ever-open to God’s word and action in their life, eager to give a ready ear to all who are instruments of God’s grace in daily life: family members, colleagues at work, schoolmates, community or parish members. God’s voice and action are often hidden in unlikely places, and can easily be missed when we might be looking for God’s voice and action somewhere “out there,” and not where we actually “live and move and have our being” (Acts of the Apostles 17.28), which in fact is defined in the Bible as living in Christ.

The Gospel passage for this Sunday tells us that on a Sabbath day Jesus is a guest of one of the leading Pharisees. Perhaps Jesus had preached in the synagogue that morning and was now being treated to a nice dinner. It was customary to show such marks of respect to well-known teachers.

However, we’re told that the host and fellow-guests “observed Jesus closely.” Perhaps this was out of admiration and interest in the teacher, but it could also be that they were watching to accuse Jesus of some violation of the Law. In any case, Jesus uses the occasion to offer a collection of teachings to the guests at the meal, words worthy of taking to heart and applying to one’s daily life.

First of note, Jesus must have observed the way the guests at the Pharisee’s house sought the places of honor at the head table, close to the guest of honor. That was normal behavior, but Jesus offers a lesson which touches on the basic human attitudes of pride and humility, the same theme of the Book of Sirach, emphasizing the need of sincere humility.

Taking the example of a wedding feast, a universal and timeless festivity, Jesus reminds the guests to consider their conduct. At a marriage feast in Jesus’ time, and maybe still so in some places today, there was and is a degree of formality in the seating of guests. Often the most “important” guests (parents and close relatives, for example), typically arrived at the last moment. Who doesn’t take notice when this happens, for us monks at least, when the last brother arrives just seconds before we are to begin an hour of the Divine Office?

Late or last-minute arrivals are noticed, and maybe even admired, for their audacity! They must have had more important things to do than to arrive early! In any case, social climbers, who had presumed to take a place close to the honored guest would be instructed to take a lower place, even the last place, when the more important guests finally arrive, since all the other places are occupied. Shame increases with every step the climber must backtrack.

The lesson Jesus offers is not about feigned or false humility, but the call for humbly taking a lower place out of genuine humility, and perhaps then to be “called up higher.” It’s a parable, remember, and the point of the teaching is not etiquette or worldly wisdom, but a manner of living in such a way that God might exalt the truly humble, those who know their need of God, and who have not placed themselves at the center of the universe. Instead, God is at the center of their lives.

The interior attitude that Jesus proposes is something that needs to be cultivated throughout a person’s life. It is an attitude that will be taken into account when each person stands before God at the time of death.

After addressing the other guests at the meal, Jesus turns to the one who had invited him to the meal, a “leading Pharisee,” the Gospel tells us. To this man Jesus explains that as God calls from the highways and byways “beggars and the crippled, the lame and the blind,” to his table, so must we human beings do likewise. The point is not to be in the habit of only inviting “friends or brothers or relatives or wealthy neighbors,” to meals and into our lives. Put another way, everyone is my neighbor, as Jesus explains in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and no one should be excluded from my attention, care and love.

As God always acts, and as Jesus acted in his earthly ministry, so ought the follower of Christ act now. Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus asks: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” (Luke 6:32). Acting in accord with Jesus’ teaching, we should ponder and take comfort in the Lord’s words: “You will be repaid in the resurrection of the just.”

The Lord is inviting us today to place ourselves in humility next to those who may be considered outcasts of society. We are called to overcome attitude of superiority and pride, and to offer helping hands, friendship and service to all whom we encounter in life’s journey.

A blessed week of loving service to all!

Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB