Sirach 3:17-18, 20,28-29

Psalms 68:4-7, 10-11

Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Perhaps there is no virtue more maligned or misunderstood than the virtue of humility. Indeed, in spite of its importance for a genuine spiritual life, humility is a virtue seldom visibly practiced by high-ranking politicians, or the religious leaders who find themselves positioned in the narrow point of the looming pyramid. Practicing the kind of humility espoused by the Book of Sirach in our first reading, a humility reinforced by Jesus in our gospel reading, is difficult, if not impossible, when you are always accustomed to occupying the “places of honor” at banquets and the like. Built into our human nature is the desire to be important; only the most extreme introvert never wants to be the center of attention. For many, humility is akin to being weak, and thus many want no part of it. Sirach sets the tone for this weekend’s liturgy when he affectionately tells us: “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.”

Perhaps the sage advice of Sirach should be read before anyone takes on a position of authority, whether the organization be small or enormous: “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” The Old Testament is replete with examples of truly great individuals, whose greatness was not based on wealth or privilege, but rather it was deeply rooted in a genuine humility which recognized their own unworthiness to play any role in salvation history. Abraham, Moses, and all the prophets, were genuinely humble in their service of God, and if the various kings of Israel were successful, we can look to their humility as the source of their success.

Living in today’s world we might be confused about the value of humility, for, regardless of the field, egotistical, self-centered, narcissistic, and brash individuals seem to get all the attention, and suck the air out of a room, just so they can insure that they get the attention. The Scriptures provide us with a wealthy resource proclaiming the importance of humility, and today’s gospel is no exception.

Jesus is no stranger to enjoying a night out, and in today’s gospel we see Jesus having sabbath dinner, “at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,” a group of religious leaders that Jesus is often at odds with. Elsewhere, Jesus would call the Pharisees “hypocrites,” a word whose origins are found in the world of acting, people who are just playing a role. Jesus was aware that “people there were observing Him carefully,” but He too was observing them carefully, watching the invited guests choose “the places of honor at the table.” It was the perfect opportunity, even if somewhat awkward, to teach them something about humility in the form of a parable. Don’t take the most important seats, says Jesus, even if your only reason is to avoid the embarrassment of having to surrender your seat to someone more important. Take the least desirable seat, and should the host move you up, “you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.” For Jesus reminds them, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Turning to His host, the “leading Pharisee,” Jesus has a last word, or better, a novel idea: “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives, or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.” The Pharisee may not have even been thinking about “repayment,” yet Jesus touches on the oh so human feeling, “I hope I now get invited to his house.” Where Jesus goes next is in a completely different direction, for the people Jesus suggests should be invited, are people that a “leading Pharisee” would most likely have nothing to do with: “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” In Jesus’ day, the illnesses themselves made the individuals destitute! Indeed, some of Jesus’ suggestions might in fact make the Pharisee “unclean” and unworthy of worship, let alone that they would never be able to repay the Pharisee’s generosity. Imagine what a force for good would be all our meals and celebrations if we invited the poor and disenfranchised to them?

Humility looks to a heavenly reward, not an earthly reward. Humility provides us with the unique opportunity to see ourselves as God sees us. It is a stripped down version of ourselves, where we are unencumbered by titles and positions, unaffected by salaries and investments, and where we genuinely recognize that all is gift. C.S. Lewis rightly described the virtue of humility as “not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” May we all strive for that kind of humility, and, almost inadvertently, make the world a better place to live.

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