When I was still a seminarian in the Philippines I was assigned in my home parish one Holy week to help out in the Holy week activities. One of my jobs was to be a crowd controller for people wanting to go to confession . For some reasons, many still think that if they went to confession during holy week, their sins would surely be forgiven. So when I went to the Church one particular morning I saw this long queue of people waiting for the priest to hear their confession. Because of the number of people, the parish priest then organized a numbering system, just like Vicroads, in order to be fair for everyone. So they have to wait for their turn to come. While waiting, I chatted with some of them and I learned that some of them had left their homes and villages as early as 6 o’clock just to get to the church earlier and to get to confession sooner. But then I noticed that there was a bit of a commotion near the front of the line. Apparently, there were two ladies who came much later than the others and wanted to butt into the queue. Some of those who came earlier had told them to go to the end of the line but they insisted to cut into the queue. I told them: ‘You should include in your confession today that you butt into the line. If I were the priest, I would give you as a penance to go to the end of the line and start again. It’s unfair for these people you know. They have been here almost three hours now, waiting, then you came in just now and wanting to push yourself first.’ I could sense they were a bit embarrassed when I reprimanded them. So to save face, one of them said to me: ‘If you want to go to confession too, you can go before me.’ I said: ‘No, I’m not going to confession. I’m the crowd controller here. So please off you go to the end of the queue, if not I’ll tell the priest about you.’ They went to the end of the line, much to the relief of many who were there earlier than they were.
This particular experience remained in me because this just reveals a typical human attitude to get the best spot and to be the first in everything even if it involves stamping on and disrespecting the dignity of others. It got me.
The same sort of attitude was shown before Jesus as we have heard in our gospel today. Some of the guests wore their pride so much by trying to get the best seats in the dining hall. But Jesus had to remind them, their attitude is not worthy of the kingdom of God. In a way, he is urging his listeners and us now to humble ourselves. Humility is one of the essential attitudes we need to cultivate and practice now to get a spot in the feast of the kingdom of God. It is very important for us to be humble. In fact, St Augustine would even call it the foundation of all other virtues. He wrote: ‘Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.’
Humility derives from the latin word ‘humus’, i.e. ground, soil or dirt. When we are called to be humble this means we are touch base, to put our feet on the ground, that is to keep in touch with our humanity. To be humble is easier said than done. We can always think of many ways to be humble. For the sake of today, we reflect on three ways to be humble.
One important way and perhaps the first way is to learn from the humility of God in Jesus Christ. He said: ‘Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.’(Mt 11: 29) If he only said this we can choose not to listen to him. But because he has shown this in his life, then we as his followers, we who call ourselves ‘Christians’ are to learn from him. His humility was such according to St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, “that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9). He committed no sin but he took all punishment for our sins. He is the way, so He came down to show us the way. He took the humiliating punishment of the cross for our sake, and because of that he has changed the meaning of the cross and our sufferings. In his humility, he changed the direction and the meaning of our life.
Another way to be humble is to listen to Jesus saying to us in the gospel: ‘When you are invited for a wedding feast, do not take your seat in the place of honour.’ Jesus was on for a meal at the Pharisee’s house and he noticed that the guests were trying to get the best seat, the best spot, or the table for VIP’s if you like. This is how they behaved in special occasions like this, it’s the feast on the Sabbath. Jesus had noticed this so he took the opportunity to challenge their expectations and behaviours. In a way he was showing them that to go to a meal is to enjoy the food and the company rather than showing off to people your social status, your wealth, your power or your influence. For Jesus this is not the way to enjoy the feast in the kingdom. Ecclesiasticus or Sirach in our first reading today would add to this saying: ‘The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly, and then you will find favour with the Lord.’
Another way to be humble is to understand that “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?) William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1940’s has explained this way quite well when he said: “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.’ This doesn’t mean though that we look down at ourselves all the time, but rather it means that we need to know the world is not just revolving around us. We are part of the network of relationships with God and with one another. This means we are to look after the needs of other people. This means also allowing other people to enter into our world and grow into a personal relationship together. This means listening to people, taking on their comments, their criticisms at times and learn from them, and strive to become a better person.
Today we celebrate Fathers’ Day in Australia. I have a fathers’ day story for fathers and this is a challenge to be humble and to listen to others even if he is your little boy or little girl saying.
A boy asked his father during meal: “Dad, are bugs good to eat?” asked the boy.
“Let’s not talk about such things at the dinner table, son,” his father replied.
After dinner the father inquired, “Now, son, what did you want to ask me?”
“Oh, nothing,” the boy said. “There was a bug in your soup, but now it’s gone.”
It pays to listen and to be humble before little children at times too. Humour aside, as we celebrate all Fathers and fatherhood today, we honour and acknowledge all fathers and father-figures for their love and sacrifice for their children and loved ones. For all fathers here, and on behalf of us all here today, thank you fathers, dads, grandpas, for being who you are and for everything you do, thanks. God bless you.
One last thing, election is coming up. Let’s us pray for discernment to know who among the candidates have the true humility to serve the country. I pray for all of you who can vote, (I can’t because I am not a citizen yet) please vote wisely and prayerfully.
So as we continue our Eucharistic celebration today, let’s pray that we may attain that certain attitude of humility before God and before others, that humble attitude worthy of the kingdom of God. Amen.