Humility is acknowledging everything is from God

The Gospel passage tells us something that is still happening today. In His parable, Jesus tells us not to sit at places of honour but, rather, to go to the lowliest seat.

Aug 26, 2022

                           Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Fr Philip Tay, OCD

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)
Readings: Sirach 3:17-20, 28-29;
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a;
Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14

One day, an elderly man went into a café in another town and ordered some food. When his food arrived, he bowed his head in prayer before eating. Some young people near him laughed and said, “Hey old man, do people do this where you come from?” The old man replied, “A stalk of wheat that is full of grain will bow to the ground, only an empty one will stay upright with its head held high.”

What lesson can we learn from this old man? He didn’t answer the young man’s question but, in some ways, taught him a valuable lesson. A lesson about humility. That is the thread that connects the readings today.

The first reading from Ecclesiasticus tells us that “the greater you are, the more you should behave humbly and then you will find favour with the Lord…” We live in a world where achievements and success are everything in life. With the advent of social media, everyone and anyone will find ways and opportunities to do something and trumpet it on Instagram, Tik Tok etc. This affects even priests as well as religious. You will hear remarks like “This priest or nun or brother is so talented, they sing so well, they are so captivating” and many more similar remarks. Everyone is eager to carve out something for themselves. But they forget that everything that we have, all the talents and capabilities that we have, comes from God. He is our Creator and we are His creatures, not the other way round. We let our success and fame get to our heads. But like the story that I shared earlier, the more we possess, the humbler we should be. In holding our heads up high, we show ourselves to be nothing more than empty stalks of wheat.

We should not confuse humility with self-abasement. Self-abasement is about belittling oneself and humiliating oneself in front of others. Humility, on the other hand, is about acknowledging the gifts and talents that we have and attributing them to God, not ourselves. When we start to become proud of who we are, we will slowly lose sight of God and we become our own god. I am not saying that we should not be proud of ourselves; we should appreciate ourselves because it is a form of healthy self-affirmation. The problem starts when we let these achievements go to our heads and we start to belittle others or always try to vie for attention. As the Book of Ecclesiasticus says, “There is no cure for the proud man’s malady, since an evil growth has taken root in him.” We should instead, behave like the psalmist, who says that “The just shall rejoice at the presence of God.” We rejoice that God has given us so much in life and all glory should go to God, not ourselves.

The Gospel passage tells us something that is still happening today. In His parable, Jesus tells us not to sit at places of honour but, rather, to go to the lowliest seat. Again, this is not self-abasement. This is an exercise in self-awareness, being aware that there may be many others who are more worthy to sit in places of honour. If we are truly humble, we will be able to acknowledge that we are not the best in everything, that however much knowledge we possess or however good we are at something, there will always be someone who is better than us. However, pride often creeps in and we tell ourselves that people must acknowledge us for who we are. We insist on being treated differently and in a special way. But that is not the way of the Gospel. The way of Jesus is to know that we are not the best in everything. No one can claim to know everything, only God knows everything. Even if we knew much more than the people around us, we have to learn to be humble and acknowledge that we do not know much. The more we know, the less we actually know.

The great Carmelite reformer and mystic, St. Teresa of Avila, teaches us that “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” All the knowledge in the world will not profit us spiritually, only in acting and living humbly can we reach God and build a stronger relationship with Him. She also teaches us that “Humility does not disturb or disquiet or agitate, however great it may be; it comes with peace, delight, and calm. . .. The pain of genuine humility doesn’t agitate or afflict the soul; rather, this humility expands it and enables it to serve God more.”

Pride will lead us to serve ourselves and our own agenda but humility will lead us to serve God through others. It is only when we begin to serve others in humility that we will realise the temporal nature of material gains. No matter how great or famous we become, it will one day come to an end. When we pass on from this world to the next, all this fame will not help us, only our humble service will bring us true glory and honour.

Fr Philip Tay, OCD is a Carmelite priest and currently the Assistant Priest of the Church of the Visitation, Seremban.

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