Sunday Sermon for September 1, 2019, the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, year C
Readings: Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a; Lk 14:1, 7-14
In the Gospel reading today our Lord tells us that whoever humbles himself will be exalted, but whoever exalts himself will be humbled. He tells the guests at the dinner to which He was invited to take the lowest place at the table. It may be that the host of the event will notice the person at the lowest place and invite him to sit at a more distinguished spot. Such an occurrence would result in the person gaining esteem from the others at table with him.
It is important for us to recognize that these words came from the mouth of our Lord. Not only does that make this divine teaching, but it also is coming from One Who practiced what He preached. Jesus is God; He is, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the highest and most exalted. Although He is higher than the heavens, He chose to humble Himself, taking the form of a slave and going to the Cross for our sins. He continues to give Himself to us in the form of a piece of bread.
This background is important not only for us to see the example of His humility, but to realize that He is not asking anything of us that He was not willing to do Himself. In the first reading Sirach tells us that if we conduct our affairs with humility we will be loved more than a giver of gifts. We all know proud braggarts; we tend to ignore and dismiss them. They may be very talented and do many good things, but the arrogance is often insufferable.
On the other hand, if we are humble, the humility will be very attractive to people. They will certainly see the work that is done and the person doing it, but because the glory is given to God instead of the self, people will come to trust and appreciate such a person. The proud person leaves the impression that the good they have accomplished was done for personal gain; it is clear to all that the humble person does things out of charity, only for the good of the other.
This is the point Jesus is making to the host of the dinner when He tells the man to invite to his banquet the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind: people who cannot repay. In other words, do everything out of charity. If this is the operational motive, even if the man invited the wealthy and his friends, he would not be expecting anything in return for his kindness.
Humility is an attractive virtue, one people really love when they see it. However, Sirach does not stop on the human level with his instruction. Rather, he goes on to say the greater a person is, the more that person needs to humble himself, and he will find favor with God. Since God is perfectly humble, the more humble we are, the more God-like we are. This virtue, then, is not only attractive to other people, it is irresistible to God.
Sirach also provides practical insight into operating in humility when he says we are not to seek what is too sublime for us, and we are not to search into things beyond our strength. This should be self-evident, but our pride clouds the clarity of our thinking and fills us with ideas that are too sublime or strong for us. Until our Lord came, the things of God were too sublime for humanity to understand. Certainly, there are some absolute mysteries we will never fully understand, but St. Paul shows us how in Christ that which was beyond us by nature has now, through grace, come to be within our grasp.
The Old Covenant was inaugurated on a mountain that could not be touched. There was fire and gloomy darkness, storm and trumpet blast. The voice of God terrified the people who begged, tragically, never to hear the voice of God again. The New Covenant is Jesus. He has made Himself completely approachable. When we draw near to Him, we draw near to the heavenly Jerusalem, countless angels in festal gathering, the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, God the Judge of all, the spirits of the just made perfect. We draw near to Jesus and are sprinkled with the Blood He poured out for our redemption and salvation.
I would hope that, unlike the people at Mount Sinai, we would want to hear the voice of Jesus. He speaks to us in the silence of our hearts, but He also speaks very clearly in the Gospels. If we want to hear Him speaking in our hearts, we must listen to Him when He speaks in the Gospels. We need to humble ourselves and find favor with God.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.