Sirach 3:17-29, Psalm 68, Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24 and Luke 14:7-14
“The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so, you will find favour in the sight of the Lord… The affliction of the proud has no healing, for a plant of wickedness has taken root in him.” (Sirach 3:18&28)
Last Sunday, Jesus taught us to strive to enter heaven through the Narrow Door. Today, Jesus was invited to dine in the house of a Pharisee (the same people that Jesus heavily criticised for their hypocrisy) and as always, Jesus took advantage of the occasion to teach two powerful lessons; humility and feeding the poor. Just as one will be required to bend and squeeze to fit through the narrow door, Jesus’ call for humility requires that we purge every atom of pride so as to be small enough for the narrow door.
At face value, our readings today appear all too easy to understand so much so that for many Christians unfortunately, humility is just a matter of taking the back seats at events or dressing shabbily. So, the real question before us today is: “What exactly does it mean to be humble?” or better put, “How do I know if I am proud or if it is just self-esteem?”
Lesson One: What exactly is Humility?
The first point we must take home today is that humility can never be faked. It is not something we do; it is what we are. Humility goes beyond taking back seats, it is knowing our true worth yet giving God and others their due. There are two dimensions of humility; God-centred humility and People-centred humility.
A. God-Centred Humility.
Our first reading today says: “For great is the might of the Lord; he is glorified by the humble.” (Sirach 3:20). In our opening prayer at this mass, we prayed: “God of might, giver of every good gift, put into our hearts the love of your name, so that, by deepening our sense of reverence, you may nurture in us what is good…” Humility is giving God reverence; it is coming to terms with our nothingness before God our creator. Humility is channelling the praises we often receive from others to God as the source of our talents, our riches and in fact, everything good in our lives. It is ensuring that we do not take the glory that rightfully belongs to God.
Humility is being able to give God thanks from the very depths of our hearts not grudgingly as though we are being forced. In truth, proud people cannot give thanks, they will change Church on harvest day because they see no reason to give. Even when you help them, they will never thank you because they feel they deserve it or that you have simply done your duty and this is the same attitude they show to God. How many of us here have joyfully done our family thanksgiving this year?
Humility as our second reading today points out is respect for God; it is recognising that “you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” This is the house of God, it is not a place to steal, gossip, play with our phones (even while mass is going on), walk about like someone on a fashion runway, litter things around so on.
B. People-Centred Humility.
In very simple terms this has to do with how we treat those we believe are less than we are in any way. Once upon a time, a young engineer got a job in one large cooperation abroad. He was the only successful candidate out of over ten thousand applicants who had applied for the position in different countries all over the world. He was truly a genius. The company sent him his flight ticket, his visa and everything he requested to resume his job. Upon his arrival at the Airport, he noticed a grey-headed man holding a card with his name and standing with other cab drivers. Without greeting at all, he walked to the man and shouted at him for not coming earlier to carry his luggage. The grey-headed man profusely apologised and carried the luggage obediently while the young man walked gallantly to the car eliciting the admiration of virtually all the ladies at the airport. “He must be one of these young billionaires,” some thought, seeing the type of car that had come to pick him up. On the way to the hotel, the young man constantly berated his driver with all kinds of insults. He almost gave his driver a slap for booking an executive room instead of a whole suite. The next day, upon getting to the office, this young man got the shock of his life. This grey-headed driver was actually the owner of the company that had employed him.
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul warns, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but IN HUMILITY REGARD OTHERS AS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:3-8).
Lesson Two: How do I know if I am proud?”
In his book “The Way” St. Josemaria Escriva beautifully answers this question when he wrote: “You are humble not when you humble yourself, but when you are humbled by others and you bear it for Christ.” (The Way 594). Simply put, the litmus test for humility is how you react when you are disgraced, falsely accused, insulted or humiliated in public. The very fact that you are angry when people say things that are not true about you or expose your dirty secrets should tell you who you are. Very often, we have an image of ourselves that we project to the world. We lie to ourselves and we want others to believe this lie by all means. Like the Scribes and Pharisees, we care more about what people think of us than what God thinks about us.
According to St. Josemaria, “If you knew yourself, you would find joy in being despised and your heart would weep before honours and praise… Don’t forget that you are a dustbin. That’s why if by any chance the divine Gardener lays his hands on you, scrubs and cleans you, and fills you with magnificent flowers, neither the scent nor the colour that embellishes your ugliness should make you proud. Humble yourself: don’t you know that you are the rubbish bin?” (The Way 595 & 592).
If you ever catch yourself saying to someone in annoyance: “Do you know who I am?” bear in mind that the only correct answer to that question is: “dust.” Think for a moment what would happen to you after your death, how strangers will bathe your body or how your friends will laugh and drink to a stupor during your burial. Think of how quickly you will be forgotten and you will learn to live more humbly. Self-esteem is coming to terms with this truth. It is the maturity we gain when we decide to love rather than lord over others.
Lesson Three: Invite the Poor And Those Who Can Never Repay You.
The third point we must take home today reminds us of the parable of the Rich Fool that Jesus gave a few Sundays ago. “God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21). Recall that St. Ambrose teaches us that if we need new barns to store our goods, we should make use of the bellies of the poor, the widows, the orphans and so on.
Today, Jesus is saying when you give a banquet do not invite your friends, your neighbours, your family members, not even your rich neighbours. Why? “So that they too would not invite you in return and you be repaid.” Jesus is very particular about this repayment because He wants us to use our wealth to store riches for ourselves in heaven where thieves cannot break in and steal, where moth and rust cannot destroy.
As Nigerians, we love celebrations, so much so that there is almost no weekend we are not invited to a party. It is not just a mortal sin but also a crime against humanity that in a country filled with so many hungry people, patients dying in hospitals due to lack of funds, children unable to go to school, communities lacking clean drinking water, etc., Christians would be spraying money (dollars) on the floor at a party.
Must your wedding be the talk of the town? Whoever says you must paint the town red to do that burial? Will the dead rise to eat cow meat or wear new clothes? If you do not invite so and so to that occasion you are planning, will it stop your celebration from being memorable? Painfully, some foolish ones go to the extent of borrowing while some get into crime and engage in all kinds of nefarious activities just to host such parties. Truly, we should be ashamed of ourselves if our conscience does not bother us.
Lesson Four: Pride Comes with Endless Afflictions
The common denominator of proud people is that their actions are always motivated by a very strong desire to “show them”, to make a statement, to prove something. One who is proud (whether rich or poor) lives their entire life like a race competition. When we are proud, we have only one life goal; to outshine others. We never have peace of mind because when the ego is in charge of our lives, we are constantly under threat. We are never satisfied with what is ours. Whatever progress anyone makes becomes a problem to us because as soon we know about it, we refuse to sleep until we achieve something greater. Nothing frightens us more than the laughter of others so we live basically to please people and as a result, despite all that we show to the world, there is always this feeling of emptiness within us.
The only cure for this affliction is to kill your pride. We cannot be proud and happy at the same time. If you are not a happy person, if you feel constantly restless and stressed out, examine your heart because all your problems may just be hinged on your pride.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like yours. Teach me to sing with Mary your mother the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. … He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away…” (Luke 1:46-53). Amen.
Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Year C. Bible Study: Sirach 3:17-29, Psalm 68, Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24 and Luke 14:7-14).
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu