Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a; Lk 14:1, 7-14
On a flight from Johannesburg, a middle-aged, well-off white South African Lady had found herself sitting next to an African man. She called the cabin crew attendant over to complain about her seating. “What seems to be the problem Madam?” asked the attendant.
“Can’t you see?” she said. “You’ve sat me next to a black man. I can’t possibly sit next to this disgusting human. Find me another seat!” “Please calm down Madam.” the stewardess replied. “The flight is very full today, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go and check to see if we have any seats available in club or first class.” The woman cocks a snooty look at the outraged black man beside her (not to mention at many of the surrounding passengers also).
A few minutes later the stewardess returns with the good news, “Madam, unfortunately, as I suspected, economy is full. I’ve spoken to the cabin services director, and club is also full. However, we do have one seat in first class”.
Before the lady had a chance to answer, the stewardess continued, “It is most extraordinary to make this kind of upgrade, however, and I had to get special permission from the captain. But, given the circumstances, the captain felt that it was outrageous that someone be forced to sit next to such an obnoxious person.” With which, she turned to the African man sitting next to her, and said: “So if you’d like to get your things, Sir, I have your seat ready for you in first class up at the front…” At which point, apparently the surrounding passengers stood and gave a standing ovation while the African guy walks up to first class in the front of the plane.
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. Humility is like a rare flower — put it on display, and it instantly wilts and loses its fragrance!
The reason why Jesus was invited to the dinner party in today’s gospel was that he was already a sort of celebrity, noted for curing the sick. People are always drawn toward celebrities. But Jesus was not interested in such fame. Without putting on an air of superiority, he used the occasion to teach a lesson about the Kingdom, presenting humility as the essential condition for God’s invitation to His Heavenly banquet.
Jesus taught us time and again lessons on humility and warnings about pride. Pride is described as “the only disease known to man that makes everyone sick except the one who has it.” It works its way into our souls and takes away goodness that is inherent in us.
Pride is the guilty parent of many sins and vices while humility is the mother of all virtues. Being humble is an elusive gift. Once you think you are humble, then you have lost it. I heard from a priest friend joke that of all his spiritual gifts and talents, his humility is the one he was most proud of.
Being humble is admitting first what we are in a limited context of time and space. Humility means accepting who we are in the presence of a loving God. In the context of time and space, what are we but fellow travelers in this journey of life? And in the presence of a loving God, who are we but persons he ever loved from the moment we were born?
If we only realize that we are those poor, crippled, lame and blind persons he is continually inviting, then we should also be helping and sharing with these persons Jesus mentioned, with no conditions imposed. Humility means spending time with those we find hard to live with, spending some time this week with those we probably like the least.
Humility is knowing our strengths, our weaknesses, and our place in the banquet of life. It is also acknowledging our status before God. We are lucky and blessed, because He has opened himself for us, with unconditional love and humility.
Our model in humility is Jesus. He washed the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper as a sign that his followers are to serve. Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. We, his followers, are called by him not to be served to serve. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”