Sunday, 1 September 2013
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
Sometimes it can take other people to point out to us certain things we don’t realise about ourselves, and sometimes children do this to us very directly and simply. I was struck by this some time ago, as a young priest, when a little child asked me why I did ‘that funny thing’ with my voice at the end of the long prayer. It took me a while to figure out what he meant, but it turned out that he was referring to the doxology at the minor elevation, and that ‘funny thing with my voice’ is what I had been thinking was ‘singing’!
The path to self-knowledge can be a hard lesson, but it is an essential one if we are ever to have the outward humility that we hear Jesus call us to in the Gospel today. If we mistakenly thing we’re better or grander than we are, then we simply end up looking foolish if we’ve been pushing ourselves forwards anyway. True self-knowledge prevents us making such fools of ourselves. And so a Christian is called to act humbly.
It might be replied, however, and I’ve frequently had people say this, and only recently had someone say this to me: but surely I AM better than some people, and so I shouldn’t behave as if I was lesser than EVERYONE.
Well, the saints say otherwise, and say so very emphatically. (e.g. The Imitation of Christ, Bk 1, chpt II).
But, what struck me while reading this Gospel text this week, is that I think the Lord Jesus deliberately by-passes this question.
Note, He doesn’t say: seat yourself lower because you are lower. If that was the reason then He would say, surely, analyse the room and figure out who is TRULY greater and lower than yourself, and rank your seating accordingly. No. He by-passes the reality of our true worth and rank and instead says we should sit AS IF we were lowest.
Behave as if you rank the least, regardless of whether or not you rank the least.
This is the better path, the surer path, the one that Christ has marked out for us.
He marked it out in His teaching, but most of all in His own example –“He was humbler yet, even to accepting death on a cross”(Phil 2:8).
In His own example He by-passed the question of whether He was more important (which, as God, He certainly was) and behaved AS IF we were more important than He was, as if our salvation mattered more than His suffering.
This, of course, is involved in all love. This is why humility is the essential foundation if the house of love is to be built. We must behave as if we were less important and others more important, as the earlier part of that text from Philippians that I just quoted said, “put other people’s interests before your own”(Phil 2:3-4)
Let me close by noting the fear that I think we all have here:
We don’t want to put ourselves down because we fear that if we do then we’ll be forgotten, neglected, and so forth.
But chasing after that quest to raise ourselves forward is a fool’s goal, as Jesus’s example of people who raise themselves and then get lowered by others shows us.
And, even if (in this world) lowering ourselves means that we get forgotten, well, isn’t it better to lower ourselves if it means that we thus raise others in loving them, in putting them higher?
And, ultimately, it is better for us too, so that on that final day of judgement, when that final seating of all people is established, so that the Lord Himself will say to us, because we have put ourselves lower, "My friend, come up higher"(Lk 14:10).