Life & Soul

Humility is the path to glory

The Meal in the House of the Pharisee, by James Tissot (1836-1902)

The 22nd Sunday of the Year
Eccl 3:17-20; Heb 12:18-19 & 22-24; Lk 14:1, 7-14 (Year C)

‘My son, be gentle in carrying out your business. The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly, and then you will find favour with the Lord.”

The Book of Ecclesiasticus is a distillation of popular wisdom spanning the centuries from the glory days of Israel’s monarchy to the period immediately preceding the birth of the Lord. Here we find a humility that stands at the heart of faith, a contradiction of pride’s arrogance. “There is no cure for the proud man’s malady, since an evil growth has taken root in him. The heart of a sensible man will reflect on parables, an attentive ear is the sage’s dream.”

Pride places itself at the centre of its own universe. While it expresses itself in particular words and actions, it springs from an attitude of mind, this “evil growth” identified in the Book of Ecclesiasticus. It sees, hears and judges everything from its own self-centred perspective. It knows nothing of the wise man’s longing for an attentive ear.

A disciple is, by definition, one who learns from the master. As disciples, we are those who, in the words of St Paul, are called to be of one mind with Christ Jesus, who humbled himself to become as we are.

In our own day, as in the day of the Lord, social gatherings are frequently occasions that highlight both pride and humility. Jesus was condemned for mixing in the wrong circles, with tax collectors and sinners. In today’s Gospel he had been invited to the house of a leading Pharisee, a setting in which all would have been expected to know and keep to their proper place. The Evangelist records that on this occasion “they watched him closely”.

Jesus responded with words that went far beyond social etiquette. He sets before us the humility that rejoices in his presence. “When you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say, ‘My friend, move up higher … the man who humbles himself shall be exalted.’ ”

Such attentive humility leads faith to the glory glimpsed by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: “What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire or trumpeting thunder. You have come to God himself, and to Jesus, the mediator who brings a new covenant.”

May humility bring us to a faith that leads beyond what can be seen, and a heart that rejoices in the presence of the Lord.