Just a few minutes ago, the prayers, thoughts and desires—individually and corporately—which we bring to the Lord’s Table today were ‘collected’ with these words: “…increase in us the gifts of faith, hope and charity…make us love what you command” (Collect for Proper 25, BCP 1979).
The portion of Luke’s gospel proclaimed today tells of one of several incidents remembered on an occasion when Jesus went to a house of a leader of Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath. We are also told, “…they were watching him closely.” The context of this observation would suggest a kind of surveillance with less than charitable intent toward Jesus, and not a few presuppositions and already-formed opinions about him. Jesus, we are told, is observing, taking notice of the behavior of the guests, as they jockey for places of honor at the banquet.
Aware that he is being ‘watched’, Jesus casts his observations in the form of a parable analogy about those invited to a marriage feast. His story is one of a reversal of fortune: guests at the feast who take places of honor are removed from them in shame, while those who take the lowest places are invited by their host to come up higher. Jesus alludes to the teaching of Proverbs (25:6-7), certainly known to his hearers, which says, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” Jesus’ expresses the point of his parable in a saying about humility: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus’ teaching here plays on the difference between two understandings of what is meant by ‘humility’. The first, probably most commonly held definition equates ‘humility’ the experience of ‘being humbled’. We are humbled by the unpleasant embarrassment or shame associated with a wound to our pride, the popping, by the realities of social interaction, of the illusory bubble which our overinflated self-opinion has become.
By contrast, the humility of which Jesus speaks, and which he models, is that of “down to earth-ness”, of living with a conscious connection to the humus from which God fashioned humanity. Those who humble themselves are aware of their “creaturely-ness.” Rejoicing in the gift of being bestowed on them by God, such persons are freed from a cycle of constant self-preoccupation, which usually masks a low-self opinion. Such humility is truth in self-understanding and truth in action. Humble self-knowledge means seeing ourselves and others as God sees us. True humility delights in learning to love ourselves and others as God loves us.
We are invited to embrace the humility of Christ, to ask for the gifts of faith, hope, and charity of which we truly have need this day and with which our God so lovingly desires to shower us. These are the things which God commands—and God wills for us to receive with the same truthfully humble love with which they are freely and lovingly given.
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