Many years ago, a little girl named Sarah lived in a home for unwed mothers. She was not one of the clients; her mother was the cook there. Sarah had grown up in the home, and was the special pet of all the girls who came there. One day, a new girl, young and pregnant had come to the home. As she sat on the bench, waiting for her intake interview with the director, she wept. Sarah, now about twelve or thirteen years old, had seen many girls come and go by then, and she knew most all of them had the same look of despair when they arrived. Sarah took pity on the girl, who was not far from her own age. She began talking, and as she did, the girl stopped crying. Then Sarah began to offer some advice on how to answer the standard questions, particularly the one about the father of the baby, “When she asks you who the father is, don’t lie, she hates it when you lie, and, whatever you do, don’t say he’s dead, everyone says he’s dead.” The girl looked at Sarah, and much to her surprise, asked her, “So what did you say when she asked you?”
Sarah froze; she was horrified that the girl had mistaken her for one of them. She loved and cared for those girls, but in her mind there had always been a careful separation between them and her. She could love and support them, but she could not be one of them. That, I guess is the difference between God’s hospitality and ours. God chose to be us. “Christ Jesus, 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.” (Phil. 2:5b-7)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus explains the practical benefits of humility, connecting it with the common wisdom about dining etiquette. Jesus went to a banquet given on the Sabbath to the house of a Pharisee. Jesus was on trial. People were watching him to see what kind of person he was. The irony is, of course, that he was also watching them. They were concerned about who occupied the coveted place of honour. Jesus advises the guests to go to the lowest place instead of seeking places of honor so that the host may give them the place they deserve. For Jesus, the daily human needs of the poor are the personal responsibility of every authentic, humble believer. The first reading, taken from the book of Sirach, reminds us that if we are humble we will find favor with God, and others will love us. The second reading, taken from Hebrews, gives another reason for us to be humble. Jesus was humble, so his followers are expected to be humble, trying to imitate his humility.
Humility was Jesus’ favorite theme. "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:11); "Whoever humbles himself like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of God" (Matthew 18:4); “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart"(Matthew 11:29). Humility is a strange phenomenon. As a rule, when we discover we have it, we lose it. St. Augustine said: "Humility is so necessary for Christian perfection that among all the ways to reach perfection, humility is first, humility is second, and humility is third." He added, "Humility makes men angels, and pride makes angels devils." Humility must be expressed in the recognition of one’s lowliness before God and one's need for salvation.
Here is a portion of one of Mother Teresa’s exhortations to her novices: (She will be canonized next Sunday)"If I try to make myself as small as I can, I'll never become humble. It is humility with a hook. True humility is truth. Humility comes when I stand as tall as I can, and look at all of my strengths, and the reality about me, but put myself alongside Jesus Christ. And it's there, when I humble myself before Him, and realize the truth of who he is, when I accept God's estimate of myself, stop being fooled about myself and impressed with myself, that I begin to learn humility. The higher I am in grace, the lower I should be in my own estimation because I am comparing myself with the Lord God." Thus, humility is an attempt to see ourselves as God sees us. It is also the acknowledgement that our talents come from God who has seen it fit to work through us. I must not use the God-given gifts to elevate myself above others. Hence, humility means the proper understanding of our own worth. It requires us neither to overestimate nor to underestimate our worth.
A man had a gold-plated safety pin which he carried in his pocket. Frequently he would be seen fingering it. Someone asked him one day what the significance of the pin was. He told, in answer, how he had run away from a fine home, mixed with the wrong crowd, gone from one trouble to another, finally ending in poverty and degradation. He had sold his overcoat to get money for liquor, and on a cold winter night he had his sweater pinned together with that safety pin. He walked into a mission to keep warm, and there the Lord Jesus Christ found him. After he came to know the Lord he started a new life. It brought him many successes and material possessions. He had that pin gold plated to remind him of what he once had been before he knew the Lord. The feel of that pin forever robbed him of any thoughts of pride or conceit over what he had accomplished. His own strength had left him desolate and dissolute. He knew what the redemptive grace of Jesus had done.
God can work through us only when we offer a chance by keeping our pride aside. Humility is like a musical instrument. Left to itself, its worth is not known. But when it is played by the best musician, its worth is manifested to all. So are we in the hands of God.
Just as Jesus challenges his fellow guests, so he challenges us today. Am I vying for the first seat to show my importance to others? Or am I willing to place myself alongside a huge God and looking on my own littleness? Let’s pray every day: Jesus meek and humble of heart, make my life like yours.