How deeply rooted in human nature is the problem of egotism. Christ witnesses its pathetic display in this week’s gospel, as He observes dinner guests trying to jockey for the places of honor at the table. In some way, this exaggerated sense of self-importance has been with us since the Fall. Adam and Eve, in fact, were the first to reach beyond their creaturely status as they sought to grasp the forbidden fruit.
They yielded to the temptation that has been put before us ever since: to be like God, to set ourselves in first place. It is only Jesus Christ who restores the proper order of things: as St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Philippians, “Though He was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, He emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave….”
It is this perspective that colors the whole of the parable and the lesson Christ teaches us this week. Our Lord’s words are not meant to convey just a sense of etiquette or good manners. Instead, they are intended to help us see things and more importantly, see ourselves as God sees them. To be humble is to adopt an attitude of submission and surrender to God that flows from the awareness of one’s own limitations. A humble person entrusts himself to God and expects from Him only whatever God is willing to give. We humble ourselves whenever we express in our practical life this inner awareness and give in to others, even by surrendering our own rights, without resentment or grumbling.
On the other hand, one who “exalts himself” represents a vastly different attitude: that of pride and arrogance when someone thinks that he is superior to, and better than others, and acts accordingly. All that matters is attaining a prestige that puts others in their place. Which attitude does God prefer? Which one does He wish to see in us? Once again, we have to look to Christ Jesus, who became poor for our sakes, that we might become rich. The lesson of this week’s gospel like the lessons taught throughout our Lord’s life is simply that we must imitate Christ in His humility if we want to be raised up with Him.
This is the last dinner we read about Jesus attending in the gospel before the Last Supper. In commanding us to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” to a banquet, Christ reveals how He regards us as He invites us to the Last Supper. The Lord has been sent to bring glad tidings to the poor; He promises them the reign of God. In the same way, Christ calls the crippled, the lame and the blind into His eucharistic presence so that He can heal and transform them. In reality, we are in the same situation. Perhaps we are not physically at a disadvantage, but certainly we have no claim on God’s graciousness or mercy. What He gives us, He gives freely and without necessity. The banquet of life, the Eucharist, is offered to all who are humble enough to know that we do not deserve this invitation, and that we cannot repay the Lord for the gift of Himself. We can only accept it lovingly and gratefully, and seek, in our daily lives, to overcome all forms of sinful pride so as to be imitators of the Lord who humbled Himself that we might be exalted.
Fr. De Ladurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education, a professor of theology at Notre Dame Graduate School and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)