Letter from the pastor: Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time: 26 Oct.—1 Nov.
Every culture has its proverbs that give wisdom about how to live well. In Saturday’s gospel, Jesus passes on proverbial wisdom about the virtue of humility. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). The word humility comes from the Latin word humilis, which literally means “on the ground,” deriving from humus, “earth.” So when we are advised to humble ourselves, it is an invitation to be “grounded,” to be attentive to our connectedness with Earth. This entails consciousness of our interconnectedness with all persons and all Earth’s creatures and with God.
One way in which Jesus models authentic humility is by not cutting off those whose theology and pastoral approach differ from his own. In Jesus’ day, likes ate with likes. Eating together was a way to signify shared values. By dining with those who opposed him, he signaled that their shared common humanity forged a connection that superseded their differences.
Jesus first addresses the invited guests about choosing places at the table. The setting presumes that these are people with a certain measure of power and prestige. Banquets were occasions for people to enhance their social standing, and Jesus describes how guests would compete for honor. The way to gain the most honor, he says, is actually to take the lowest place. Choosing to sit with those whose status would not enhance one’s own personal honor could instead lead to growth in humility, that is, to engage in interactions with persons who are more earthy and to forge bonds with them. If such a person is then invited by the host to a higher position, he or she would be able to represent the perspective of those at the other end of the table in the discussions and decisions that take place at the head.
Jesus then turns his attention to the host of the dinner and talks about how to formulate a guest list. From this angle, he again prods his hearers to break out of the strictures of likes eating with likes. The conversations at tables of like-minded serve only to reinforce their own views, and the circle tightens as they reciprocate invitations to one another. Jesus proposes to the hosts, invite those unlike yourself, those with whom no one wants to associate. From a stance of humility, such a host recognizes the bond shared through common humanity that is stronger than differences in abilities or social positions.
It is easy to fall prey to false humility, pretending to take a lowly place in the hopes of receiving adulation and an invitation to come up higher. Or false humility can be manifest in persons whose self-esteem has never developed properly. True humility is ground in earthy wisdom, a knowledge that all persons, no matter their circumstances, and all the created world share in an unbreakable interconnection of life given by God. The Holy One loves and esteems us equally and desires that we flourish.*
*Sr. Barbara Reid, adapted from Abiding Word.
Barbara Reid, OP, is professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.