Luke 14:1, 7-14
One of the words that stand out in our first reading from the book of Sirach is the word ‘humility’. “Perform your tasks with humility…. the greater you are the more you must humble yourself … to the humble the Lord reveals his secrets.” In the gospel we have the words of Jesus, “all who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
We are taught that humility is a virtue, an important virtue. Often our understanding of humility is twisted. In my experience in religious life I’ve often seen good people humiliated in the name of humility. I had one director who kept trying to make me ‘humble’ saying to me, “I was testing you and you failed miserably.” I really couldn’t buy into his version of humility.
In a way we’ve been conditioned into thinking being humble is putting ourselves down, belittling ourselves, lest we appear to be proud. I read a beautiful definition of humility. “Humility is gratitude which allows us to stay at home in our own shoes.” Humility is gratitude, we recognize and are grateful for the gifts with which we’ve been blessed – and we are happy with these gifts and don’t try to be someone or something we are not – we are happy to stay at home in our own shoes, we have no need to wander. As the song sang, “I am who I am so don’t try to change me, I am who I am, so don’t rearrange me, let me be me.” The Blessed Mother was totally humble when she said, “He Who is mighty has done great things to me, hence forth all generations will call me blessed.”
Let’s imagine the scene in the gospel. We hear that the Pharisees and the lawyers were watching closely to see if they could catch him in violation of Sabbath laws. Jesus was watching them too. He watched as they jockeyed for the best seats, those closest to the host. They were not the kind of people who could stay at home in their own shoes. So Jesus tells them this parable about those who seek the best of seats and then are told to give place to someone more important than themselves and disgraced, they go to a lower place. The opposite is the case for those who are not pushy, not convinced of their own importance and just sit where ever a place is available – they are invited to a place of honor.
Would it be true to say that we, the human species, the human family could take a lesson from today’s gospel? God’s great creation has been evolving for some 15 billion years. Primitive life forms began billions of years ago. We still are not sure as to when the human species began to develop on earth, maybe 400,000 years ago. The truth of the matter is we humans are late comers to the community of life on planet earth. Over the countless centuries we’ve moved from hunters and gatherers, from cave to tents, from nomads to settlers, from villages to towns to cities, we’ve developed our skills in farming and husbandry, in learning and science. In the last 100 years we’ve gone from stage coach to space rockets. As a species we really are on a roll.
In this whole process we have insisted on places of honor at the banquet of life to which God has invited all creation. We imagine ourselves to be over and above all other life forms, they are for our use and for our abuse. We’ve lost any sense of connectedness with them, any sense of dependency on them. We’ve exploited and depleted other life forms so much so that some of them are now extinct and as someone has said, “extinct means gone forever.”
The human family needs humility. The very facts of life are showing us that in time, Earth itself could ask us to leave the head table where we intruded ourselves and in shame and disgrace take a lower place. Earth itself will say, “enough is enough, I have no more to give.”
As a human family, one member of the family of life that inhabits Earth we have to rediscover our place within the family. We need the humility, that gratitude which allows us to “stay at home in our own shoes.” We need that humility that helps us realize “we did not weave the web of life; we are a strand in the web and what we do to the web we do to ourselves.” I have no idea how we’ll do this but it can begin with humility, it can begin with an attitude of gratitude for what we are to God and Who God is for us and an awareness of our place within the web of life that vitalizes Earth.
There is a beautiful Celtic prayer that prays; there is no plant in the ground but is full of His virtue – there is no form on the strand but is full of His blessing – there is no life in the sea – there is no creature in the river – there is not in the firmament but proclaims His goodness – there is no bird on the wing, there is no star in the sky – there is nothing beneath the sun but proclaims God’s goodness. In other words all life forms but the human have the gratitude to “stay at home in its own shoes.”
We can continue to celebrate this Mass praying for ourselves and for each other that, as individuals and as the human family, we be blessed with the gift of humility – that gratitude which allows us to “stay at home in our own shoes,” and come to live in peace with all those life forms that make up the web of life that vitalizes planet Earth.