August 28, 2016
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first reading on the subject of humility catches my eye since humility, while a topic of great importance for all Christians, is especially so for Benedictine monks. The longest chapter in the Rule of St. Benedict is the seventh, entitled "On Humility". The fact that the part of the Rule addressing humility is the longest shows not only how important this virtue is, but underlines too just how subtle and complex a reality it is. With this in mind I was eager to see where our readings would lead us.
Sirach's teaching on humility today follows a lengthy section in which he instructs his readers how the righteous believer is to respectfully relate to God and to his or her parents; it is in turn followed by a section on the proper attitude toward the poor (Sir 3:30-4:10). The responsorial Psalm takes up the theme of the vulnerable members of society as well, extolling the Lord as "the father of orphans and the defender of widows" and then urging us to acknowledge our own place among the needy: "A bountiful rain you showered down, O God, upon your inheritance; you restored the land when it languished; your flock settled in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided it for the needy" (Ps 68:6, 10-11).
Continuing with this line of thinking about our own neediness, in the gospel of Luke Jesus cautions his followers not to seek honors but rather to cultivate a sense of eager humility; he says: "When you are invited to a banquet, go and take the lowest place, so that when the host comes to you he may say, 'My friend, move up to a higher position.'" (Luke 14:10). Jesus is not teaching us to seek honors by slyly demurring from them, but rather he wants us to learn how truly dependent on the graciousness of God we are, and to share the same spirit of kindness with those less fortunate than we are. Learning humility before God helps us to practice charity toward our neighbors, especially those who are poor, and while many of us may not be poor in a financial sense, we are all "poor in spirit" at times.
Turning back for a moment to the book of Sirach, we now see that the progression of that book-as it addresses first our relationship with God, then with our parents, then summons us to live humbly, before finally instructing us on the right attitude toward the poor-makes great pedagogical sense. First we need to understand our place before God, and then come to terms with the respect we owe to the parents to whom God has entrusted us. Next we can begin to develop an authentically rooted sense of humility based on our infinite worth in God's eyes rather than on self-exaltation or arrogance. Finally we are able to go forth into life with all of our actions humbly attuned to the neediness of others precisely because we have been so thoroughly introduced to our own needs and the many ways in which the Lord and our mother and father have addressed them.
Even if mother and father have failed in this effort, or abandoned it, this should make us all the more zealous not to let others who depend on our kindness be neglected or spurned, so that, living in Christian humility and charity we can rejoice "because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:12-14).