22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Tension in the Gospels: Staying Humble and Rocking On
It’s a bad feeling to think you’ve got this—whatever this is— and then to discover that, in fact, you don’t. As bad as that is, it’s even more knot-inducing to have built yourself up, publically or internally, over “having” this and then have it all come crashing down. It’s horrible. Every time— Every. Single. Time.— that I build myself up over something I’ve done (or resisted doing), I wind up sinking to the bottom of the ladder. It’s not fun.
You’d think I’d learn by now not to puff myself up over anything. But I’m human, and I will never master humility.
Jesus was well-aware that none of us have mastered humility. None of us are rushing to throw ourselves on a cross to save humanity, and we all have what we consider to be a perfectly valid reason not to. So, in this story in Luke, Jesus tries to save us from that embarrassment—He even uses that word, embarrassment— by encouraging us to build others up rather than focus on ourselves. The amazing thing is that a by-product of this true humility is that when we practice it, others will want to build us up; we will naturally enjoy “the esteem of our companions…” (verse 12). This esteem that Jesus talks about is real and true and not just something we’ve grasped at in an effort to build ourselves up.
Is it easy? No. But it is easier if we recognize that being humble doesn’t mean being walked on. Jesus was perfect humility, but no one ever walked on Him. He held His head high all the way to the cross. In Catechist, Catherine Torgerson notes that the root both humility and humiliated is the Latin word hummus or ground. Being humble means we choose to “lower ourselves to the ground.” Being humiliated, though, means being forced to the ground by someone else.
It all comes down to choice, to free will. In a way, free will is the basis of the gospel. God has chosen us; now He wants us to make our choice. We have to choose what we want. We can choose worldly respect. We can choose to take the higher position at the table, to surround ourselves with those who won’t challenge us and who will repay us in kind. We can choose to constantly chase something that we can only hope will fill us.
Or we can choose the gospel. We can choose to honor God in others, even when we don’t see Him there. To live the gospel, we commit to look for God in everyone and to honor Him there. He’s in the rich and the bloated, the poor and forgotten, the seemingly unblessed. And, somehow, he’s in people doing outright evil too. I don’t know how. But He’s there.
When we choose to put ourselves above anyone, we deny God’s presence. And, when we let someone humiliate us, we deny God too. Jesus held His head high all the way to Calvary. They thought they had the best of Him. But He was the ultimate victor. Can we do the same?