22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
All three Bible readings today spotlight the virtue of humility. We are advised not to strive for that which is beyond us, not to seek the higher places. The first reading says that there is an effective way of encouraging a person to be pleased with us: Conduct your affairs with humility and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. It is hard to reject a person who is humble and quiet.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus echoes the teaching of the first reading. He begins by giving his listeners what would appear a common sense advice, even a face saving advice. One who comes early to a banquet takes the place of honor. But then a higher dignitary arrives and he is asked to make room for him. Because he was not humble, he is humiliated. In reality, Jesus is not concerned with ordinary social protocol; he is talking about something far more important: our relationship with God. Jesus neither approves nor condens the social etiquette of his day, but he takes the occasion of a dinner to give an important lesson: pride has no place in the Kingdom of God.
Humility is necessary if we want to please God and to be accepted into his Kingdom. Jesus says, For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled and he who humbles himself shall be exalted. This is no longer an observation of social etiquette. This is an invitation to the Kingdom banquet that God issues to the lowly, the humble, to those who recognize their total dependence on God’s salvation. These are the ones who will be exalted. That´s how tings are in the Kingdom of God.
Then Jesus has a few words also for the leading Pharisee who invited him. Humility does not apply to guests alone. The host must also show humility in the kind of persons he invites to the banquet. When you are giving a dinner yourselves, don’t invite only the important people who can return your invitation, and whose presence at your table feeds your self-esteem. Invite instead people who can do you no favors, whose presence in your house will not enhance your reputation in society. Here again, Jesus is actually talking about our relationship with God, under the guise of giving advice on social behavior. He speaks with typical Hebrew hyperbole to make a challenging point: what merit is there if we do good only to those who can repay us with good feelings, money, or prestige? Even sinners do that. The good is to be done with complete and absolute generosity and loving abnegation.
Unfortunately, humility is looked upon today with such scant regard that it is almost embarrassing to mention it. A popular understanding of this virtue often associates it with self-depreciation and self-pity. In fact, the humble person has a truthful self-image in relation with God and others; he recognizes talents and even achievements for what they are: things given to us by God out of sheer goodness. The humble person has prudence and lots of common sense; he knows limits and respects boundaries. Such an attitude allows us both to use our talents and to learn from others, acknowledging that everything, ultimately, comes from God. Humility is an honest recognition of our strengths and our weaknesses. Humility is the state of being empty before God. And it is only the person who is empty whom God can fill with his joy, his love, and his peace. So, let us conduct our affais with humility. That it’s the Christian thing to do!