The first reading for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, from Sirach chapter 3 and the Gospel from Luke chapter 14 are about humility.
Do you have friends or family members who have a hard time accepting a compliment? When you praise the delicious meal they have served they say, "Oh, it was nothing." I'm tempted to respond, "You're right. It really was pretty mediocre. I've had a lot better."
Why do some people reject compliments or deny them? The reason is called "false humility." It's false because it denies the truth of the goodness that's being recognized and praised. It's false because it's often motivated by a desire to receive more attention and praise.
But what about the parable Jesus tells in today's Gospel? In it he recommends taking the lowest or worst seat at a banquet so that the host will come along and seat you in a better place and "you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table." Isn't that "false humility?"
The key to understanding all this is to ask about one's motivation.
True humility is honest. It's truthful, not false. And the ultimate truth is that we are nothing. There is no "self-made person." We didn't create ourselves nor did we endow ourselves with the talents we use to do things that gain us recognition and praise. All that we are and have is ultimately a gift from God.
We are nothing and we are great. We are great because we are important to God. We are so precious to God that the Son of God shed his Precious Blood "that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel" (see the second reading). The blood of Abel, the Bible's first murder victim, called for justice, for vengeance. The Blood of Jesus calls for mercy. It says to each human being: "You are precious to me. Precious enough to die for. I would rather die than to live without you."
Because Jesus underwent what he called a "baptism"--his suffering and death--we are freed from sin and death. We are saved and baptized into God's family. We are joined to the Body of Christ. Now, as God's beloved daughters and sons, we share in the same relationship with God the Father that Jesus has. The Father loves us with the same infinite love with which he loves his only begotten Son.
This is what makes us great. Not our looks. Not physical beauty. Not what we do or accomplish. Not the awards we win. Not our wealth or power. Not what others think of us or say about us.
False humility is motivated by insecurity. We wonder, "Am I really good. Am I really lovable?" Seeking praise from others tries to answer those questions in the affirmative. But we can't depend on what others say or think about us for our sense of self-worth. Human praise disappears like the sound of the words. Physical beauty does not last. Success comes and goes.
Our true self-worth is much deeper and secure. It comes from a daily and prayerful awareness that I will always be precious to God, that I am a beloved son or daughter from whom God will never take away his love. It's been said, there is nothing you can do to make God love you less. Nor is there anything you can do to make God love you more. God's love for us is infinite and there is no more or less when it comes to infinity.
True humility can admit: I am not perfect. I am weak. I am not God, but I am beloved by God.
Ultimately true humility leads to gratitude. With it I can say: "I am nothing, but God has done great things for me. I am great in God's eyes so I don't need to prove anything to anyone." True humility can accept compliments and give the glory to God.
That's what the Blessed Virgin Mary did. According to Luke chapter 1, when Mary went to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth she was greeted with: "Most blessed are you among women." Mary accepted the praise and gave all credit and glory to God, saying, "Behold, from now on will all ages called me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me."
God has looked on all of us in our lowliness, our nothingness, and has done great things for us.