Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time: 8-28-16
Peace be with You,
Over the last couple of weeks we have been confronted with the reality that the road to discipleship is a difficult one. Two weeks ago, we heard Jesus tell us that to love as He loves will often leave us in a position that is unwelcomed by the world, at times even those closest to us (cf. Luke 12:53). Then last week, we were told that to enter the kingdom of heaven is like entering through a narrow, and we might even say, a somewhat deceptive gate, for as Jesus explained, even those who believe they have passed through may be left unrecognized by the One Whom they seek (cf. Luke 13:27). These words are difficult to accept, so goes the gospel. However, encapsulating these challenging words have been others that are filled with hope. Just last week, we heard both the prophet Isaiah and Jesus Himself speak of a time when all would be gathered together peacefully in the worship of their God and sharing in his very life. Moreover, three weeks ago, we were given the example of Abraham, our father in faith, who through faith was able to pursue the difficult path God had called him down. Today, we are confronted with yet another message which has both challenging and hope filled aspects to it.
If we were to put a thematic label on our readings for today we could say that today is Humility Sunday, as the first and gospel readings for today explicitly address this virtue. In many ways this theme ties directly back to the exposition of faith we heard three weeks ago. Then, while being presented with the example of Abraham in our second reading from Hebrews, we heard Jesus challenge us to live in the breach between time and eternity by living a life that is based upon faith, just as Abraham did. At that time, we likened faith to a lived trust in our Creator God and His revealed Word, both as spoken by the prophets and, most especially, as lived by the Incarnate Son of God. I would propose that if the primary characteristic put on display by the life of Abraham is faith, the secondary characteristic is that of humility, a necessary consequent of a true faith.
The word humility comes from the Latin humilis meaning on or near to the ground, which is related to the word humus meaning ground, earth, or soil. Interestingly enough, both of these words are related to the word, homo, the Latin for human being. So what exactly is our message for this Sunday trying to tell us? That we are worthless, as good as the dirt we stand on? Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, this emphasis on humility is trying to give us a proper view of ourselves, to see things as they really are, especially where we are concerned as individuals.
I mentioned earlier that humility is a necessary consequent of faith. I say this because the initial consequence of faith upon the individual is to break them out of themselves. Taking a stance of faith we are no longer focused on ourselves, placing ourselves at the center of our lives, but rather, we become confronted by the fact that we are not the center of the universe, and that we have been created by an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God, whose existence is at once mystifying and awe-inspiring. In short, faith puts things into perspective for us as they really are. Being confronted with the reality of things, we are able to understand ourselves in the proper light, this is humility.
To be sure, the message up to this point has been sort of, well humiliating. After all we have been made to feel low to the ground, small. However, it is precisely when we get down to reality that we meet our God, and in meeting Him, we go from small and insignificant to extraordinary heights of greatness, the reason being that it is the intention of our God to share His very life with us, as we saw last weekend (cf. Hebrews 12:10). This is precisely the message at the core of the parable we hear in the gospel for today. There, we find Jesus telling us that it is those who take the lowest spots at the dinner banquet that the host will move to a higher position of honor at the table (cf. Luke 14:10). The host is none other than God Himself. The dinner guests, the human family, all of whom are invited. Here there is no human understanding of positions of power or honor, for all have equal position with respect to our Creator in accordance with our nature. At the very core of this nature sits the imago Dei, the image of God, which makes us by our very nature relatable in a unique way to Him. The fact that we have been created in such a way is precisely what humility allows us to realize, and to position ourselves accordingly. Having done so, our God approaches, and far from leaving us low to the ground, invites us to a higher place, to a place of honor, close to the head of the table, close to Him.
This is the effect of grace upon the human life. It is grace that is the favor that God is pleased to confer upon the humble that we hear spoken of in our first reading for today (cf. Sirach 3:18). The Church teaches us that grace is a participation in the life of God, the sharing of the Creator of His very essence with those who bear His image, and it is humility that makes us properly disposed to receive grace. My friends, this weekend God wants to build you into something more, something greater than you could ever imagine, but in order for that process of building up to take place, we must first place our selves at the ground level of humility.
Your servant in Christ,