Meals are a very important part of all our lives. We enjoy Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving dinners and birthday parties and wedding anniversaries. We break the monotony of daily living by ‘going out for a meal.’ I guess this has always been so. In the time of Jesus meals were an occasion to affirm and give legitimacy to a person’s role and status in a given community. The same is true today. Imagine how some people would give anything to be invited to a meal at the White House or Buckingham Palace. I was going to say 24 Sussex but I don’t think so.
As I mentioned in the time of Jesus and usually in our own time as well meals affirm and give legitimacy to a person’s role and status in a given community. We’d like to think that the ruler of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dine because he accepted Jesus as a social equal. Probably that wasn’t the case. Luke tells us the guests watched Jesus closely. They resented this rabbi from the back waters of Galilee who came challenging the way they worshiped and observed the law. They hoped this country bumpkin would trip himself up, embarrass himself by some foible. They would note his simple clothing, his Galilean accent, and his table manners. Maybe he would do something or say something that would give them all a good laugh so they could put him in his place.
In those days and in our own time behavior at meals is very important. Guest would be quite aware of who was there and who was not. A common question is ‘what did they serve?’ Most of all they would check who sat where and with whom. The sitting order was very important and a guest could be embarrassed to tears by being asked to sit somewhere else because he/she was sitting where they did not belong. So we have Jesus’ advice to his fellow guests, ‘when you are invited watch where you sit.’ Jesus offered his fellow guests a simple lesson in what we call humility.
Humility is often a misunderstood word. Often people think of humility as putting oneself down, belittling their gifts and talents. I remember getting a letter from a young man who thought he might have a vocation to religious life and was inquiring about the Passionists. The letter was pretty good up until his sign off, ‘The Lord’s humble door mat.’ Not a good sign of a healthy self image much less of a healthy spirituality.
When you think about it humility rarely just comes naturally. It is often born and nurtured in an environment of faith and respect for others as well as an honest recognition of one’s own gifts. The humble person is an honest person, rooted in his/her reality and comfortable just being one’s self. The humble person sees no need for putting on airs, no need to embellish his/ her accomplishment, no need for the praise or admiration of others, no need to sit at the head of the table.
One of the best examples of an honest, humble person is Mary, the mother of Jesus. In her famous prayer of thanksgiving and praise she humbly proclaimed, ‘he who is mighty has done great things to me and holy is his name, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.’
Each one of us can honestly and humbly say those same words about ourselves – he who is mighty has done great things to me and holy is his name. Our reality is that before the world began God chose each one of us to be God’s adopted son or daughter, we are gifted with God’s love and life. We do not deny our faults and failings, we do not deny our limitations, and we know we are all a work in progress but we celebrate as well the gifts with which we have been blessed.
As we continue to celebrate this Eucharist we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we make the opening prayer of today’s Mass our own;’ Almighty God every good thing comes from you. Fill our hearts with love for you, increase our faith and by your constant care protect the good, the gifts you have given us. May we be blessed to recognize our gifts and put them at the service of others. May we always remember, He who is mighty has done great things to me.