TRUE HUMILITY THAT PLEASES GOD!
First Reading: Sirach 3:17-20, 25-29; Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14
Every position we occupy in life is meant for us to serve both God and human beings, especially the poor and needy, with love and humility. Unfortunately, in our contemporary society, we see so many people basking in the euphoria of opulence, flamboyancy, prominence and fame, but unmindful of the needs and cries of the poor. They may cunningly render help to the poor in order to draw people’s attention. Hence, the readings of today lay more emphasis on the virtues of simplicity, humility and meekness.
Interestingly, Ben Sirach (wise man), in the first reading gives us a wonderful reflection and thought provoking guide on how to please both God and humanity. He opines that, the best way to be loved by God and by people in general is to always be open in helping others as well as rendering humble services to them. In his words of wisdom he articulates that, “The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favour with God. There are many who are noble and renowned, but it is to the humble that He reveals His mysteries. For great is the might of the Lord; He is glorified by the humble” (Sirach 3:18-20).
Surprisingly, many people have different understanding or perceptions about humility. Some of them see it as being loyal to people, especially those in authority; paying obeisance to people, either by bowing or prostrating before them during greetings; or always answering people ‘yes sir’ or ‘yes madam’ with smiles. Could these be seen as humility? Sometimes, these are deceptively done with ulterior motives in order to gain favour. Also, others think that humility is being very quite or calm; always walking or talking gently. While others see humility as a sign of weakness. From the aforementioned, they may be right to some extent, but that is not the true meaning of humility. So, what then is humility?
Humility is a wise and saintly basic virtue of a Christian life. It is one of the highly prized virtues in numerous cultures of the world; a virtue that almost everybody admires and appreciates. Of course, it is the foundation on which all other Christian virtues are built. According to The Free Dictionary, “Humility is the state or quality of being humble; freedom from pride and arrogance; lowliness of mind; a modest, honest, and truthful estimate of one’s own worth; a sense of one’s own unworthiness through imperfection; sinfulness; and self-abasement.”
Meanwhile, having a modest or sincere opinion of ourselves and others, implies accepting who we are; both our good and bad characters. Furthermore, it means accepting lowly positions or duties, and always ready to associate with the poor (people of lower status in the society) in order to render them our help or support. It is also the ability to analyze issues through objective microscope while accepting or respecting other peoples’ opinions, especially when they seem to be superior to ours.
Certainly, Humility can as well be ascertained when, one is able to give listening ear to people, and sees others as more important or better than himself or herself. Although, being humble is not to see ourselves as inferior to others, which is false humility. Rather, it is the ability to appreciate our gifts and talents, but not to esteem ourselves above others.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus Christ affirms the indispensability of humility and meekness in our daily lives if we must receive favour and honour. He tries to use this singular opportunity to correct the wrong notions of the Pharisees, who were blindfolded with pride and self-righteousness, which often made them dissociate themselves with the poor and sinners. Hence, He says: “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). He further lays down the norms regarding the kind of people we should always invite in a ceremony or banquet, and how to behave at such a banquet. According to Him, His disciples, must be constantly ready to serve the least, the poor, and render help to the needy as well as those rejected by all.
Amazingly, some people think that refusing to accept help from others when they try to offer it, is a sign of humility, no! That could be seen as pride or false humility. Similarly, some people deflect praise or gratitude that they truly deserve (always saying don’t mention); or creating awareness for compliments, or falsely portraying helplessness or a lack of power, and self-deprecating humour in order to draw attention to themselves.
These attitudes could be seen as “humble-bragging” (trying to prove how humble we are). However, it is worthy of note that, humility is the ability to accept help or assistance from people who want to render help to us when we need it. Unless when such help could be a decoy. Most importantly, being humble means to realize that without God we can achieve nothing good. By that I mean, acknowledging that all our success can never be actualized on our own without the help of God.
The second reading confirms that by approaching Jesus Christ with an attitude of love and humility towards our brothers and sisters, we have accepted the new religion, the religion of cheer and joy, a banquet. In contrast to the old covenant, which was received in fear and trembling on the observance of which was motivated more by fear than by love of God, Christians are called by God to Mount Zion, His heavenly Jerusalem and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in Heaven (Hebrews 12:22-23).
Undoubtedly, His covenant with us is a covenant of love, and the reward that awaits those who serve Him out of love and gratitude and humility is not the earthly Jerusalem, but the land of eternal happiness in His heavenly Kingdom. Moreover, the life of Jesus Christ is a practical example of meekness, simplicity and humility. He was in the form of God, yet humbled Himself and took the form of a human being, and became the servant of others, especially the poor and lowly of the society, even accepting death on a Cross for our sake (Philippians 2:6-9).
Finally, humility and meekness are saintly virtues of a Christian life, which are necessary for our entry into eternal life. So, in order to perform good works that are acceptable to God, we must always do them with the intention of pleasing God, in humility, and always caring for the poor and the needy. For true humility gives us freedom and peace of mind, which is not a sign of weakness, but strength. St. James states categorically that, “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble” (James 4:6). Also, St. Augustine of Hippo, echoing his Master’s voice, reminds us that, “pride changed angels into devils; humility molds human beings into angels.” For pride goes before fall, but humility goes before honour (Proverbs 18:12).
Questions for Self-assessment or Litmus Tests for Humility and Pride:
- Do we realize that we are God’s creatures with finite intellect, and that any thing or qualifications we have acquired are gifts from Him (James 1:17)?
- Do we acknowledge God as the source of our achievements or refuse to admit that He had any claims on His gratitude and obedience?
- Which category of people do we always like to associate ourselves with, only the rich (high class) or poor (low class) or both?
- Do we solely believe in ourselves as being wiser than others, and that we do not need anyone’s assistance or advice, even when offered to us? Or refuse to ask our younger ones or subjects some questions when we are in need?
- Do we become infuriated when we are not being officially recognized in an occasion, and thus withdraw what we intended to offer?
- Do we directly or indirectly truncate or downplay the gratitude that others deserve, because the good work didn’t come from us?
- How do we react when people confront us for making mistakes? Do we easily accept corrections from people, especially our junior ones or subjects?
- How often do we go to Confession? Even as priests and religious? Or do we see it as an exercise only meant for others or only when we commit mortal sin?
- Do we ask for forgiveness whenever we offend others or do we begin to claim our right or make excuses?
May the Holy Spirit of God empower you and your family, so that you will always perform your tasks with love, meekness and humility; and at the end, may you be among the first-born who are enrolled in Heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Peace of Christ be with you…
Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.