Summary: Christian humility sees rightly, neither higher nor lower than we really are, and allows Christians freedom to be who they are in Chirst and accept their role and place in His Body with joy.
Today’s reading all speak about humility. Humility is knowing exactly who we are. Pride is thinking that we are someone that we’re not. Humility is all about knowing who we are, not in the world’s sight, but according to God’s judgment. The world looks at a man’s success to determine his worth, and successes are fleeting—just think about Tiger Woods’ last two years, and how quickly the media has turned against their former darling. God does not look at how well or how much we’ve done; His gaze goes beyond our successes (and failures). God peers into our hearts and sees the true value that we have.
Humility does not let us think more of ourselves than we are truly worth. It does not allow us to become puffed up. What’s wrong with focusing on our own importance, goodness, worth, value, etc.? To do so is egotistical and self-centered. Pride shifts the focus of our lives away from others and places it on self. When we are humble, we perceive that the center of the universe is not me—it’s not the ego. When we are full of pride, the sun, moon, and stars all revolve around us, or such is our manner of life. Humility demands that we acknowledge our own lowliness and shortcomings.
Humility also does not let us think less of ourselves than we are truly worth. Humility does not allow us to denigrate the image of God which we bear. It demands that we not condemn ourselves as worthless. This self-loathing is actually a twisted form of pride. How: because the focus remains on self. When a person thinks less of himself than he is worth, his focus is on himself. It’s a subtle shift that is easy to overlook. Think of someone you know who puts himself down, belittles himself; is this done because the focus is on how wonderful other people are, or because attention is centered on self?
Humility is a delicate balance. It does not leave room for a false sense of self, either too high or too low. Pride permits us to depart from the truth about who we are, to the right or the left. Humility walks the straight and narrow way according to the truth.
So why humility? Why does God ask us to walk this tightrope? To live entirely within ourselves—to lead a life of pride, selfishness, the worst part of children and childish behavior—would leave us a very small world. Surely, we all are made with a God-shaped hole in our hearts, but God also made us with a human-shaped hole. We are made to live with each other, to interact with one another, to share our lives together. We are made to love one another. In the garden, “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’” (Gen. 2:18). God made us for community, not for solitude.
Communal life requires that the ego not be the greatest good. There must be some common bond. If there is no unifying value, something that all the separate egos and selves look at and acknowledge as the greater good, the community breaks down. If there is no absolute truth that exists outside of the individual to which each person may point as a standard, a benchmark, then each person can do what is right in his own eyes.
Christianity says that the only unchangeable standard under which men can unite is God, particularly God as revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. We are all branches of one vine. We ourselves are not the vine, but we are attached to it, supported by the root, sharing our individual lives with one another. We cannot claim to be the center: Christ Himself is the true vine, the heart and focus. Participation in the shared life of the Body of Christ means that we cannot hold ourselves as the foundation and principle.
The humble man does not look to himself to establish his worth—he cares nothing for any human assessment of his value. Man’s valuation is not based on God’s estimation. God knows us down to our essence. But when one person looks at another, he doesn’t really know that person. There are things about me that my own father and mother don’t know, things that I have not spoken out to anyone except God, and that in private. So our value is not set by fellow man. But the humble man listens to God to learn what is his value; he searches out the only Judge who judges perfectly.
Let’s now consider today’s Gospel. It’s important to remember that Jesus is speaking not in plain words, but in a parable. So how is Jesus story of a wedding feast a parable? When we hear it, it appears that Jesus is providing merely utilitarian advice for how people should behave when invited to a wedding feast. His instruction is purposed to reduce the risk of being embarrassed by a faux pas. It seems practical, secular, common.