Reflection on “Being Humbled and Exalted” based on the Gospel of Luke 14:1, 7-14
One of the fundamental facts about human nature – is that we all have this deep desire to know that we are important… that our life has value and meaning… that is not bad.
In fact, Jesus never discouraged the desire for greatness. Actually, He constantly encouraged His disciples towards greatness. Jesus told even ordinary people: “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” Jesus actually calls us to be the best person that we can possibly be.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness.”
People receive honor and praise from other people because of achievements or accomplishments but, unfortunately and sadly, at times people are more interested in receiving honor than in actually accomplishing something good and fruitful and so they compromise their values so they can receive honor. Some even say negative things about others so they will look good.
A common human problem – which is not a minor spiritual problem – is people being obsessed or addicted to receiving praise and honor; addicted to being noticed or being mentioned or celebrated.
The truth is – as St. Thomas Aquinas said – honor – in itself – adds nothing to the substance of one’s life. Honor – in itself – adds nothing to our goodness, truthfulness and integrity.
Bishop Robert Barron put it in perspective beautifully. He said: “Supposed you are at home reading a good book, taking in the truth of it in the quiet of your room and not one soul noticing you. There is more value in that than praises of you by a million people.
Supposed you are looking at a beautiful sunset, admiring the countryside, exulting at God’s beauty, not one soul paying attention to you – there is more value and goodness and truth in that than admiration of the whole country.
Supposed you are helping a child with his homework – and no one sees you – there is more truth and substance and being in that simple act of love than in the praises of you by the whole world.”
Do you get it?
In other words – What others think or say about you do not add to your value or substance; What others think or say about you do not add to the reality of who you really are….
Remember also: People see our actions; God sees our intentions.
In the Gospel, Jesus had been invited to a dinner party in the home of one of the leading Pharisees. You see – It was not like one of those fun dinner parties, where friends get together just to have a good time and enjoy each other’s company. This dinner mentioned in the Gospel was one of those where self-important people get together and they spend the entire evening trying to impress each other.
Most, if not all of us, have probably been to at least one such gathering – where people in their conversation drop the names of important people they are connected with and places they have been… “The last time I was in Paris…”, or “I had lunch the other day with Senator.” Or “I own this property or I did this and that…”… My son or daughter is an Executive or has that degree…. “I donated so much to our church or that charity….” And so they demand people to honor them and give them special treatment.
Jesus said: “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11)
Humility is the mother of all virtues. The word “humility” comes from the Latin word “humus” which means earth, dirt, or ground. So – to be humble is to be grounded in reality, to live in reality – to be in touch with reality. “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you will return.” We will all eventually return to dust – a very humbling reality.
On the other hand, the good news is – humility means seeing ourselves as God sees us. We are all important to God – equally. He loves us with an eternal love. So, it does not matter how much money we have in the bank or maybe no money – nowadays – for some people; it does not matter whatever kind of car we drive, whatever house we live in, whatever our status in life may be – in the eyes of God, we are important. We do not have to prove it. We can simply accept it. Each of us is important to God.
That is reality and that is what really matters.
Jesus said: “The hairs of your head are numbered.”… “Not one sparrow falls to the ground without the awareness of God. You are of more value than many sparrows.”
St. Paul said in his letter to the Galatians (Gal 2:20) – which we can say of ourselves: “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.” That is how important we all are to God.
Humility is acknowledging that everything we have or have accomplished – they are all by the grace of God… meaning – acknowledging the power, the glory, the goodness of God in our lives, and therefore giving thanks and glory to God for everything. If people think that we are good or that we do things well – we should give the glory to God….Who is working through us.
The Gospel reminds us – that we – who are gathered around our Eucharistic table – the table of the Lord – the banquet of the Lord – which is not like the banquet mentioned in the Gospel – we, who are gathered around the table of the Lord are reminded that regardless of our social status or wealth or power and importance – we come to the Eucharist as brothers and sisters of equal standing before God. We recognize one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord, and together – we call God – “Our Father.”
That is why we do not have seating arrangements here.
If we really want to be important, we need to turn our attention to our brothers and sisters – particularly to those who are in need and show them that they, too are important to us.
That is why in the second part of the Gospel reading, Jesus addressed the host or the one giving the banquet. The host had obviously invited those who could benefit him in the future… those who could return the favor. The host only appeared to give the dinner for others, but in fact – he did it for himself.
Jesus basically said – and this is the basis of Catholic social teaching – that if there is any preferential treatment, if we are ever going to give a special attention or preference – it should be towards the poor, the lame, the blind, the handicapped, the marginalized members of our society – to those who cannot pay us back. … and we “will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
The Gospel is basically telling us: “Forget about looking important, forget about trying to be honored, forget about yourself and concentrate on serving other people…. because there is no other way to genuine greatness. In short – the message is about humbling ourselves before the Lord, taking care of the poor, and when we do this, God will lift us up. Amen.
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Luke 14:1, 7-14