SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Rm 11:1-2
; Lk 14:1
Sometimes, Christians tend to be proud when they compare themselves with unbelievers. They adopt a superiority complex and a condescending attitude towards those who are of other religions. This was the same situation of the early Christians during the time of St Paul. They thought themselves as the ’saved’ and the Jews as condemned and fallen. Of course, this was also the attitude of the Jews. They were too proud to accept the Christians because they felt that they were the Chosen people of God and the Gentiles had no share in that honour. Many of our practicing Catholics too think themselves superior when they look at fellow Catholics, considering themselves to be holier or more exemplary than the rest.
Why do we act in this manner? This is because we are ignorant. As St Paul says, “I do not want you to be ignorant, in case you think you know more than you do.” We do not know the hidden plan of God. As he said, “There is a hidden reason for all this…. One section of Israel has become blind, but this will last only until the whole pagan world has entered, and then after this the rest of Israel will be saved as well. As scripture says: The liberator will come from Zion, he will banish godlessness from Jacob. And this is the covenant I will make with them when I take their sins away. The Jews are enemies of God only with regard to the Good News, and enemies only for your sake; but as the chosen people, they are still loved by God, loved for the sake of their ancestors. God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice.”
So St Paul makes it clear that we must be humble and grateful for having received the gifts of God. We must never think of ourselves as better than the rest of the world. Indeed, without the mercy of God, we would not be what we are today. Hence, we can learn from each other. For the Jews, it behooved them to emulate the Christians whereas for the Christians, they should have been grateful to the Jews, for “the pagan world, has benefited from their fall and defection – then think how much more it will benefit from the conversion of them all.” The truth is that we are not perfect and good in everything. For those things that we are good at, or the virtues that we have, others can imitate us. For ourselves, we can also learn from those who are weak and have made mistakes. They can teach us holiness too.
Within this context we can understand the gospel teaching on humility. What is true humility? Obviously, the opposite of humility is pride. For some, like the example given in today’s gospel, they have vain pridesince “they picked the places of honour.” Such people think highly of themselves and sit themselves in high places and expect to be treated as such. This is very real in life situations. Some of us lack humility and choose places that are meant for others. Of course, choosing the seat of honour is but only an example of what we think of ourselves.
Yet, we must not misunderstand Jesus’ teaching on choosing the lowest seat so that when your host comes, he may move you up higher and in this way, “everyone with you at the table will see you honoured.” Such a tactical move would be false humility because one chooses to seat at the lowest ranked place, knowing that this is not meant to be his in order to be exalted. This would be subtle pride, for it is not because such a person is humble but he pretends to be humble. In actual fact, he knows that he belongs somewhere else.
Why then, did Jesus advise us to choose the last seat at the banquet? Because we do not know our place in society! Many of us do not know who we are and where we stand in life. Just like the Jews and the early Christians, we do not know our place in life. Most of us either think too highly or too lowly of ourselves. As a result, either we suffer from superiority complex or low-self esteem, both having nothing to do with humility. A person who has an inferiority complex is not to be mistaken as humble. It is just that he is unable to compete with others but deep in his heart, he wants to be above others.
Hence, since most of us lack self-knowledge and awareness, we must be placed by others. This explains why many of us need affirmation in whatever we do. If we know our strengths and ourselves, then we would not seek for affirmation so much. This desire for affirmation is but the manifestation of the lack of love of self, stemming from the lack of knowledge of self.
Consequently, humility is to know where you stand and who you are, no less, no more. In such a perspective, it means that humility requires self-knowledge and then acceptance of one’s strengths and weaknesses. Only with self-acceptance, can we be comfortable with ourselves. Unless, we are comfortable with ourselves, how can we be comfortable with others, regardless of who they are? When we recognize ourselves as loved by God with all our talents and imperfections, then we do not need to project ourselves in such a way as to win others’ acceptance.
This means also that humility is the gateway to right judgment and charity. Only a humble person can feel with his fellow human beings in their weaknesses. For when we see ourselves clearly, we know that we are no better than others. On the other hand, in our weaknesses, we do not condemn ourselves either, because we see ourselves as one with our fellowmen in sin. As a result, we learn compassion. People seeing us without any airs about ourselves will also feel at ease with us because we do not project to others that we are so perfect.
Most of all, humility teaches us to be grateful. Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we learn to be grateful for all that we have and are because of God’s mercy. Everything belongs to Him and all our gifts are His. Therefore instead of feeling proud about our positions in life or our wealth and talents, we should be even more humble, for without His grace, we are nothing. This makes us more generous in sharing our gifts with others.