“…but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

 William Carey, the great missionary of India, was a very humble man despite his great linguistic skills and botanical achievements. He had translated the Bible into several Indian languages. The intellectuals and men of high positions in Calcutta recognized him. On one occasion the Governor General of India invited him to a party. As they sat around the table, one of the invitees asked another whether this was the Carey who was once a shoemaker. Carey overheard this comment and turned to the person and said, in all humility, “No, Sir, I was only a cobbler.”

The first reading from the book of Sirach today is a lesson on humility. While pride is the deadliest of the seven deadly sins, because it is founded on falsehood which destroys us and those around us, humility is perhaps the most characteristic of Christian virtues. The humble person finds favour with God not because that favour is a reward for humility, but because humility, like faith, means abandoning self-assertion, all trust in oneself, and allowing God to act where we can do nothing.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is at a meal in the house of one of the leading Pharisees. He notices the undignified scramble for the places of honour and is moved to comment on what he sees through a parable. The parable looks like a bit of prudential advice on how to behave at a dinner party so as to avoid embarrassment. But since it is a parable, one need not take it at face value, as a piece of worldly wisdom or even as a lesson in humility. It deals rather with an aspect of one’s relationship with God. God in the person of Jesus Christ is inviting all peoples to the messianic feast. The only way to respond to the invitation is to renounce any claim or merit of one’s own.

True humility also involves staying teachable no matter how much we already know. There is a story a learned man going to a holy monk to get more knowledge. The monk brings a cup and saucer and a flask of tea as a part of great hospitality. As the man holds the cup and saucer in his hands the monk began pouring the tea into the cup. The cup is getting full, but he kept pouring the tea, until it began overflowing into the saucer. “Stop, stop”, the man shouted, “the cup is overflowing”. “I hope”, the monk responded, “I hope you’re not overflowing with knowledge. Then I can’t teach you anything!”

God wants us to be like the bamboo tree – the higher it grows, the deeper it bows. Today our Lord Jesus invites us to his table. He knows that we are people with faults, people who have hurt him and others, by the wrong we did or the good we didn’t do. Knowing who we are he still loves us and invites us, as his friends, to join him at his table. Let us humbly take part in his meal and ask the Lord to make us more open to the humble, to people who have erred, and to the poor.

We are exhorted to practice discretion and humility. Those who humble themselves will find themselves raised – to the city of God where they live with God. Jesus affirms the virtue of humility and encourages us to give without expectations of return.

Fr. Charles Chidiebere Mmaduekwe