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This Sunday’s readings (the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, year C) are about humility — specifically, they are about how humility can make you happy. Very happy. Today’s readings explain how ….
FIRST: Humility sets your expectations low … so you can surpass them.
People have a tendency to be greedy for more and greater things. But greed leaves people dissatisfied with what they have. The beatitudes counsel the opposite. “Happy are those who are poor in spirit,” says Jesus. The humble don’t expect much, and so they are happy with what they get.
Jesus’ first bit of advice in the Gospel is very practical. Do not choose the place of honor at a banquet, he says: “A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place.”
Instead, choose the lowest place. Then you will be surprised by being given something greater.
The second reading lists all the things that are available to those at the “lower place” even if they don’t receive anything more at the table: “You have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering … and God the judge of all … and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”
Humble people can appreciate those things. Proud people cannot.
SECOND: Humility improves your relationship with others.
Nobody likes a boaster; everybody loves a humble person. Jesus describes what happens when you are moved up at the table. “You will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table,” he says.
Or, as the first reading puts it, “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.” The quietly pleasant person who admits who he is and is fine with it is always nicer to have around than the pushy and self-seeking person who perpetually tries to be something he is not.
This reason to be humble might seem self-serving. In fact, it’s merely honest — with the honesty of humility. Those who assert themselves and try to be popular will meet with some success, perhaps, but they will also meet with much disappointment. That disappointment is itself the product of pride: If you think you’re something special, you’re in for a surprise. Sooner or later, you will learn that you’re not really that special after all.
One reason people assert themselves is that they feel unworthy. But Christians have no need to jockey for position or feel insecure. We have already gained more unmerited esteem and favor from God than we can ever hope to mimic in worldly terms. Who needs to keep up with the Joneses when Jesus has kept us up with him? A proper understanding of God’s regard for us should obliterate any self-esteem problems we might have.
THIRD: Humility allows God to have a relationship with you.
The proud crowd out God; the poor in spirit let him in. “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” says Jesus. “Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
The more you try to find your happiness in the world, by impressing others and by currying favor, the more restless and unhappy you will be. The more you trust in God for your happiness, forgoing the search in this world in favor of the next, the more open you are to true happiness.
“What is too sublime for you, seek not,” says the first reading, in Yoda-like phrasing. It continues, “Into things beyond your strength, search not.”
Instead, just humbly accept that God is far beyond and sit and listen to him. “Humility is the foundation of prayer,” says the Catechism (No. 2559).
Sirach agrees. “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”