Sirach 3:17-18, 28-29. Hebrews 12: 19, 22-24a.. Luke 14: 1, 7-14
Some time ago in Florida, the St Petersburg Times carried an interesting story about Donald Francis Shula, the coach of the Miami Dolphins (1970 – 96). He was vacationing with his family in a small town in northern Maine. One afternoon it was raining. So Shula, his wife, and his five children decided to attend a matinee movie in the town’s only theatre. When they arrived, the house lights were still on in the theatre. There were only six other people present. When Shula and his family walked in all six people stood up and applauded. He waved and smiled. As Shula sat down, he turned to wife and said, “We’re a thousand miles from Miami and they’re give me a standing ovation. They must get the dolphins on television all the way up here.” Then a man came up to shake Don Shula’s hand. Shula beamed and said, “How did you recognize me?” The man replied, “Mister, I don’t know who you are. All I know is that just before you and your family walked in the theatre manager told us that unless four more people showed up we wouldn’t have a movie today.”
I like that story because it clarifies the teaching of today’s readings, namely, that our Christian commitment calls us to be humble people. It calls us to be the kind of Christian that Don Shula showed himself to be in that story. It was only natural for Shula to think that the man who came over to shake his hand knew who he was. When it turned out that he didn’t, Shula was the first to laugh at himself. In fact, he enjoyed the incident so much that he shared it with others. Only a humble person would do a thing like that.
That raises a question. Just what is humility? What does it mean to be humble? Does it mean to put ourselves down? Does it mean to think little of ourselves? Does it mean to deny our true worth, or to belittle it?
Not at all! Humility is something far more profound and far more beautiful than that. Humility isn’t thinking little of ourselves. It’s not thinking of ourselves at all. In its most profound and most beautiful sense humility means to be like Jesus, who said, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29) It means to be like Jesus, who said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45) Humility means to live as Jesus lived – not for ourselves, but for others. It means to use our talents as Jesus used his – not for ourselves and our own glory, but for others and their needs.
The opposite of humility is Pride. Pride looks for applause from others and often destroys us and the good that we do. Pride forgets all the other people who have had a role in our victories and successes and acts as if we were the center and most important factor in every situation.
Today’s first reading says, “My child, conduct your affairs with humility and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” Humility shows that we know the truth about ourselves. No matter how smart, wealthy or powerful we may be, we still share the frailty of human nature. We still are susceptible to every fault, misfortune, sin and disaster that can afflict any human being.
Jesus told the Pharisees a story about a dinner where all the guests were very conscious of their dignity and everyone wanted to sit in the place of honor at the head of the table. The advice of Jesus is to think humbly of yourself and to take a lower and more ordinary place at the table. Not only will the other guests love you for your humility, but the host of the party may well honor you by asking you to move up higher. Humility is a very attractive virtue in those who lead us. Taking the first place at the table with honor is something others give to us, not something we give to ourselves. The advice of Scripture is very clear. Act with humility and honesty about yourself and you will be greatly loved.
Jesus reminds us that whom we invite into our homes and whom we invite to sit at our table is an indication of how we see ourselves. Those who know the truth about themselves treat other people with kindness and humility. Others love them for it and they find favor with God. Today’s readings remind me of a familiar passage from the prophet Micah. This passage is the recipe for a grace filled life. Micah says “This is what God expects of you: To act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God”
The king of the universe comes to eat with us as a humble servant who took the last place among us by dying on the cross. His humble and tender heart makes him loveable, not only because of his power, but most of all because of his humble goodness. May our communion with Jesus in this Eucharist make us more like him in how we lead our lives. For the gift of humility and simple honesty we give God thanks and praise.