HUMBLE AND EXALTED
Homily, 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
August 28, 2016
Fr. Charlie Fox, Spiritual Director, St. Paul Street Evangelization (www.streetevangelization.com)
There is a cable news program that presents itself as the “no spin zone.” The degree to which this program and its host fulfill this claim is not for me to say. But I can say with certainty that in our relationship with God, we are truly and completely in a “no spin zone.” No rationalizations. No exaggerations. No boasting. No playing up the positive and stuffing the negative under the cover of lies or silence. No evasions and no excuses.
That is to say that all that we are, all that we fail to be, all of our striving, all of our laziness, all of our good deeds and all of our sins are seen by God with perfect and all-penetrating clarity. If this makes you squirm a little bit, I can assure you that you are not alone!
We see an exchange of gazes in today’s Gospel: the people at the home of the Pharisee “observing (Jesus) carefully”, and the searching, penetrating gaze of Jesus Himself, a gaze that not only detects the external behavior of those who were choosing seats of honor at a banquet, but also knows the motivations operating in the hearts of the people seeking such places.
And what does Jesus prescribe as an antidote to the poison of their ambition? The virtue of humility. Now humility is not just spiritual frumpiness or mousiness, walking around with your shoulders drooping low and speaking in a whisper all the time. Among other ways humility can be described, we can say that it is the virtue of seeing ourselves the way that God sees us, seeing ourselves with the same penetrating clarity, with the same honesty, and without any “spin”.
It is difficult to achieve this kind of humility, because our minds and hearts are often cluttered and complicated with self-justifications, grasping ambitions, and a pernicious sense of superiority over other people. And these forces are often subtle, making them all the more difficult to identify and clear away.
Prayer and self-denial are the tools we need for this work. Prayer helps us to cut through the pride inside of us, and to see ourselves as we really are: our dignity as children of God and our goodness, as well as our lowliness as God’s creatures, our weakness, and our sinfulness. Of course, only thinking of ourselves as sinful bums would be something like the spiritual frumpiness I referred to earlier. And so we need to see both the good and the bad, but to see them both as they truly are.
Speaking more particularly of self-denial, one way we can deny ourselves is to be very careful to avoid doing things for the sake of praise. We also need to “take it on the chin” sometimes when we are criticized and avoid reacting harshly. And we must be willing to say or do what is necessary and good even when we know we will be criticized for it.
As we strive to grow in humility, it is also good to be aware of the rewards God wants to give the humble, rewards we find in today’s First Reading: to be loved, to be a greater person in the way that counts, and to “find favor with God”. And if we achieve true humility, along with the other necessary virtues of the Christian life, we can be sure of the reward promised by Jesus in today’s Gospel.
We will be invited to the “higher place” to which Jesus refers, which is ultimately a place in the Kingdom of heaven. This is the point of intersection between this Sunday’s Gospel and last Sunday’s. Last Sunday, Jesus told us to “strive to enter the narrow gate.” Pope Francis made the point that those who are bloated by pride won’t fit through the narrow gate, and so we’ve got to be humble!
Even now, the “higher place” to which we’re called is this altar, where the Son of God humbles Himself so much that He comes to us under the appearances of bread and wine, so that He can be our Food and Drink, and make us more like Himself.
You are not a “big deal”, in the way prideful people use that term, but you are a big deal to God and because of God. So be humble before Him, and by His power, you will be exalted.
[Pictured: “The Feast in the House of Levi”, Paulo Veronese, 1573]