By Bishop David McGough
Twenty-second Sunday of the Year Eccl 3:17-20, 28 & 28-29; Heb 12:18-19 & 22-24; Lk 14:1 & 7-14 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 understands humility as something more than the convention of a polite society. It is the very ground of our relationships both with God and with each other. Humility, properly understood, is the gracious acceptance of the reality of our lives. We are not self-sufficient. Our greatest joy is to embrace our dependence on God and on each other. Pride is fantasy: the fantasy that makes ourselves, our opinions and our needs the measure of reality. Pride isolates and drives us apart. It closes eyes and ears to anything beyond its own imagined sufficiency. It is for this reason that the Book of Ecclesiasticus describes pride as a malady without cure, an evil growth that consumes its victim. Far from being a trap that imprisons us within our limitations, humility is the honesty that enables us to entrust those limitations to God, to trust in him rather than pride's empty promise. Pride listens only to itself. Humility empties itself, listens to God and so enters into communion with Him. "Great though the power of the Lord is, he accepts the homage of the humble... an attentive ear is the sage's dream." Humility is that inner stillness that waits on God, that waits on our brothers and sisters.
Pride imprisons us in the delusion of our own imagined importance. Humility frees us to enter into a greater reality that knows nothing of our own limitations. Only humility is able to enter into the vision set before us in the Letter to the Hebrews. Humility, precisely because it is not focused upon itself but on God, enables us to believe that we can come to God himself, can find our home with the saints who have been made perfect, can be one with Jesus the mediator who brings a new covenant.
The parable of the Wedding Feast challenges the unconscious pride that makes inroads into every life. The parable was set against the attitudes shown to Jesus as he took his place at the table of a leading Pharisee. He had noticed the pride that dictated the hierarchy at table. "He then told the guests a parable, because he had noticed how they picked the places of honour."
The details of the parable are well-known. Those who chose the best places for themselves, as of right, were subjected to the embarrassment of,reassignment to their rightful and lower places. The humility that claimed nothing for itself, that accepted everything as grace, was drawn into the heart of the wedding feast.
Simple though the parable is, it underlines the humility that opens our lives to the presence of God. We are guests in the Lord's presence. We cannot raise our eyes or open our arms without his love. This is the humility that finds favour with the Lord. The same is true of our dealings with each other. We approach each other not from our strengths, but from the profound humility that acknowledges the wonder of another person, that rejoices to be welcomed into its presence.