Jeremiah 2:4-13 and Psalm 81:1, 10-16 • Sirach 10:12-18 or Proverbs 25:6-7 and Psalm 112 • Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 • Luke 14:1, 7-14
Once again in Luke, Jesus comes to us as an astute observer of human nature – this time, noticing how people at a party select their seats. He comments that a person should not choose a good seat, but rather the worst seat in the house, and count on the host to intervene. The reader, wondering perhaps about the sudden, inexplicable interest of Jesus in party etiquette, is not disappointed by his quick concluding leap to truth: all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted (v. 6).
A humble person is hard to find. In our human minds, so bent towards comparing one thing to another, being humble is somehow equated with thinking of oneself as less than others. But how one person compares to another is completely beside the point when it comes to humility. True humility is refusing to compare oneself to others. As Jesus describes it, the person coming to the party is not in a position to see where his seat should be: only the host knows.
Only the host knows. The good news here is that each of us can quit worrying about where we stand. Instead, each of us can try to see the multiple influences on our own life and the lives of others. Rejecting a judgmental attitude, each person can try to understand what everyone else is up against, and one's own contribution to the problems faced by others. Similarly, each of us can try to understand life's successes and the many streams of contributions to it.
The bigger the view, the less one is interested in comparisons. This has some practical ramifications. Putting aside an "aw shucks" false modesty, a person can enjoy something wonderful, regardless of who did it. Putting aside the need to be perfect, or at least better than others, a person can own her own limitations. For example, responding to a request with a gentle "I can't take that on right now" may involve a humble awareness of one's own capacity rather than an arrogant selfishness. It may require a person to see that others are capable, too, and that each of us may be less important than we think! Humility is offered in a thousand daily choices, right down to where a person sits at the table.
The Luke reading closes with an additional three verses on another aspect of party etiquette: the invitation list. Jesus recommends inviting the poor, crippled, lame, and blind, adding that the person who does so will be blessed. Earlier in my life, there was a time when I volunteered once a month to serve dinner at a group home for the disabled, about 15-20 folks. It was challenging for me, and I made a lot of mistakes, with meals of varying quality, for sure. But I have never met a more forgiving group. I learned from them what it was like not to expect perfection, to be grateful for what was and to forget the rest. The gentle peace and patience that existed among them was hard-won, born of a lifetime of struggles. These folks were masters of humility. And I was blessed.
Morning: Where does my perspective need broadening? What might keep me from a humble posture today?
Evening: What choices did I have today to be humble? When did I confuse humility with false modesty? With arrogance?