Sunday, September 1, 2019

Humility As Vulnerability

September 1, 2019 –– 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 3:17–18,20, 28–29 / Psalm 68 / Hebrews 12:18–19, 22–24a / Luke 14:1, 7–14
Humility As Vulnerability

The readings today call our attention to humility. It is easy also to think of the implicit opposites of pride and self-centeredness. Right away we should understand the difference between humility and humiliation. Humiliation is a twisted rejection––of ourselves or from others––of the value that God himself has placed on us. We are not being proud when we recognize the good that is there because of what God has done. It is humility when we live with the attitude that our good things come from God and that ultimately everything belongs to him. Pride tells us to use every situation to our own advantage––to do all we can to make ourselves look good.

Last week's Gospel told us that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. He is on the journey that will take him to his death. In today's reading Jesus is still on his way to Jerusalem, but he is also at a stop. He is in the home of a Pharisee for a meal, and he uses the opportunity to model and teach us how to live. Jesus did not separate his life and death. He came to die; he shows us, on the way to his death, how to live.

This story took place while Jesus was eating. God's ways are best understood when they are incorporated into everyday life. Scripture tells us that meals are great opportunities for teaching God's ways. What do we talk about at meal time? Here we have “table talks from Jesus.”

Jesus was at a feast. At those meals there was a ranking order. The most important people would sit closest to the host or guest of honor. Jesus uses this occasion to portray what true humility looks like in such a setting (and he is actually helping avoid humiliation). In telling the guests to take the less important seats, Jesus was teaching through a specific example what Paul would later conceptualize when he wrote to the Romans (12:3), Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought. One word that gives a bit of insight to this is being willing to be vulnerable.

Even as Jesus teaches humility here, he models the ultimate example that Paul so wonderfully gave the Philippians (2:6–8): Jesus… who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing…. he humbled himself and became obedient to death––even death on a cross!

As Jesus concludes his table talk, he also gives a word to the host himself. Jesus says a host should invite people who cannot return the invitation. Humility affects the way we give. One way to understand humility is to see it as an opposite of taking. Humility looks for a way to give; pride looks for a way to get. This coincides with what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. There he asked, If you love only those who love you, what good is that? (5:46). True giving is when there is little or no potential for getting something back. Embracing Christian giving makes us vulnerable. Here’s a question to consider: Would our financial giving to the church be the same if the IRS did not give a deduction?

It’s easy to play the game "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." The opposite of living that way is learning to be honest before God and to hold nothing back (God knows everything about us anyway; he knows if our obedience is from the heart or mostly to impress others). One way to understand Christian Faith is embracing personal vulnerability. We are getting close to God when we realize we are needy! We need God’s love and care and salvation.

The readings today remind us that when our focus is on ourselves we will try to use every situation to our own advantage. A focus on self will be mostly concerned with personal comfort and security. In contrast, following Jesus reverses the way we usually think and live in everyday life. We are invited to enter into the incredible grace of being loved by God so that we ourselves become channels of his love and grace and mercy. That is what Jesus taught and modeled.

May our Lord give us the grace of humility––and a growing grace to follow him with whole hearts, day in and day out, in all our situations. Perhaps, at a family meal, you can talk about what it means to live with a vulnerable trust in God!

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