22nd Sunday, O T Year C – 16
Sir.3:19-21, 30-31 / Heb.12:18-19 / Lk.14:1, 7-14
Winston Churchill was once asked, “Doesn’t it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing?” “It’s quite flattering,” replied Sir Winston. “But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I were being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.”
“Well, Father,” I was asked, “what’s wrong with being proud of yourself? Aren’t we supposed to have some pride? Why are we supposed to be humble – what good does it do other than to allow others to take advantage of us?” That’s a good question, one that we should consider.
Balancing pride and humility is a problem for us all. My answer to the question about bring proud is: “It all depends.” It all depends upon what we’re being proud about. There are forms of pride that are good… and there are certainly forms of pride that are bad.
Let’s start with good pride. We should have enough pride to render good quality to our workmanship. We should do things well and be properly proud of that quality of the product of our craftsmanship.
We should be honorable, a quality lacking in today’s world. We should render an honest day’s labor for an honest day’s wage and be proud of it. We should care for our employees and workers and be proud that we care for them.
If we have musical or artistic talents, we should openly share them with others and not have a false humility that causes us to withhold what we can create for others. Hiding our light under a bushel does not give honor and glory to God, who gave us our talents so that we might brighten and build up the lives of those around us.
So, to be honest, there are forms of pride that are healthy and beneficial not only to ourselves but to others as well. Then there are forms of pride that are bad. They cut us off from others and isolate us. There is a kind of pride that comes from the delusion that tells us we’re totally self-sufficient.
Satan tempted Adam and Eve by telling them that if they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they would be like God, that they could decide for themselves what was good and what was evil. In other words, they could make their own reality.
The common theme of today’s readings is the need for true humility which leads to a generous blessed sharing with the needy. The readings also warn us against all forms of pride and self-glorification.
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. Paul reminds us that Jesus was lowly, particularly in his suffering and death for our salvation.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus explains the practical benefits of humility, connecting it with the common wisdom about dining etiquette. 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 really deserve.
When God became man, He chose to occupy the lowest possible seat. Paul described in Phil.2:7-8, the six steps in humility that God took in coming to this earth.
“Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Humility was Jesus’ favorite theme.
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk.14:11); “Whoever humbles himself like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of God” (Matt.18:4); “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matt.11:29).
Humility is a strange phenomenon. As a rule, when we discover we have it, we lose it. Humility is like a rare flower –put it on display, and it instantly wilts and loses its fragrance! 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.”
St. Bernard declared, “Pride sends man from the highest elevation to the lowest abyss, but humility raises him from the lowest abyss to the highest elevation.”
We are deluded if we think we can handle everything and that we don’t need anyone else’s help. We disguise it by saying, “my problems are my problems – they’re no one else’s business. I can take care of my own problems.”
For instance, there are horrible problem marriages. Pride rears its ugly head again, and I hear it said: “Well, I don’t need any counseling help. Counselors don’t know what they’re talking about. I can take care of my own problems – I don’t need anyone else’s help.”
So in this parable of Jesus that you’ve just heard, Jesus isn’t merely talking about nice table manners. No. He’s talking about the way you and I live our lives. He’s talking about the way we treat our selves, others, and God.
Pride keeps folks away from going to confession. They just can’t bring themselves to admit to a priest the nature of their sins. Too proud and too arrogant they say themselves “I can confess to God without needing to go to a priest.”
Such people are delusional – they end up striking their own bargains with God, setting their own terms for His forgiveness, deciding for themselves that they can take care of sin their own way. No help needed from you, Father.
If that’s so, then why did Jesus say to His first priests, the apostles, “Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” When Jesus rose from the dead His first words to His apostles were “Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Are these words of Jesus not to be taken seriously? Was He wasting His time in speaking to us about our prideful denials – or did He have something to say to us that He wanted us to take seriously?
Going to confession requires humility. Pride has to be put down. Prideful refusal to confess our sins blocks God’s graces from entering into us through the Sacrament of Penance.
And pride affects our relationships with those around us. Living prideful and self-centered life brings me into a hell on earth in which my ego pushes God aside and causes me to dominate, manipulate, rule and control others. Pride, we must always remember, was Lucifer’s downfall.
Pride is the root cause of all sin. Perhaps that’s why Jesus spent so much time pointing it out to us and calling us to humbly deal with it under God’s power, under God’s terms. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t just talk about it…
He lived life humbly and died in humiliation that we might receive the power that humility gives us in order that our own lives and the lives of those around us can be a whole lot better, better because God is in charge and our egos are not.
We must admit the truths that we are sinners, that we do not know everything and that we do not always act properly. Nevertheless, we must also recognize that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that we are called to help build the kingdom of God with our God-given gifts.