In this week’s Spiritual Reflection, Pope Francis gives us an insight into today’s Gospel passage: “Jesus helps us to understand the necessity of choosing the last place, that is, of seeking to be small and hidden: humility. When we place ourselves before God in this dimension of humility, God exalts us, he stoops down to us so as to lift us up to himself; ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” The readings throughout this week will return again and again to this same theme. God means to exalt us beyond anything we could imagine – he means to bring us into a total union with himself! There is no higher place in which we could ever be.
This is the Father’s free gift to us; it is not something we could ever earn or achieve by our own efforts. Thus we must receive it as a gift, which means truly letting go of any notion of attaining glory by our own efforts. We cannot take glory. We cannot earn a place in heaven. We can only receive God’s gracious gift with joy and gratitude.
Sadly, the enemy has lied to mankind from the beginning, telling us that God cannot be trusted. He poisons our minds with the thought that we do not need to accept glory as a gift from God, and indeed that it is offensive to us for God to suggest that we need to do that. The devil teaches that we can achieve glory for ourselves by reaching out and taking it. Rather than accepting god-likeness as a gift from God, our enemy urges us to make ourselves god-like by using the very gifts that God has given us, our intelligence, creativity and will, to accomplish great things and glorify ourselves. Indeed, what he wants is to see us follow his way, and to place ourselves in a state of rebellion against God.
In this warped way of viewing things, humility is of no value at all; it is a weakness which we must shun. Greatness comes from having gained power, by achieving social or political status, by amassing wealth, by cunning dealings with others, by acquiring scientific or technical knowledge, etc. It is painfully obvious that this is the way people in the world view life. The rich and the powerful are envied and admired, while the poor and the humble are looked at as failures, or just ignored entirely as not even worthy of notice.
As we begin this new week, let us examine our hearts to see to what extent this lie has infected even our own thinking, and ask the Lord to open our eyes to the truth of his word, so that we can reject this false teaching and accept more fully the way that God is showing us. Our theme for the week opens with these words: “God humbled himself.” It goes on to hold out to us Christ as “our model of true humility.” If God has humbled himself, if Christ is a model of humility, then surely humility is not something we should shun. It is not contrary to our dignity, but is in fact something very great indeed, something we should prize highly, and which we should earnestly implore God to increase in us.
The first reading exhorts us: “My child, conduct your affairs with humility.” It goes on to say that is it the humble who find favor with God. This is like an appetizer which stirs up in our hearts a desire to learn more about humility. Then we read that “an attentive ear” brings joy – which further encourages us to listen carefully for what God means to teach us as we ponder the following readings.
The Psalm tells us that God in his goodness has “made a home for the poor. Why “the poor”? Doesn’t God want everyone to be with him? Why would he single out the poor? It is not that God excludes the rich; the danger is that when we think like the rich, we exclude ourselves. The home God prepares for us surpasses anything could buy, or earn by our work, or figure out by our intelligence. We have nothing of our own which we can use to get into the home of God by our own power or merits. In that sense we are all poor. But only those who humbly embrace their poverty before God and gratefully accept his gift as a gift can come into his home.
The second reading gives us a glorious description of the home which God has prepared for us! It is “the city of the living God,” “the heavenly Jerusalem,” with “countless angels in festal gathering,” and the “assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,” with “the spirits of the just made perfect.” We will live there with “God the judge of all,” and “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.” All this is a gift of God’s infinite love for us, manifested in “the sprinkled blood” of Jesus’ sacrifice of himself out of love for us.
How do we enter this wonderful home which God has prepared for us? Jesus teaches us the way in the Gospel. We humble ourselves and allow God to exalt us. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The second parable in the Gospel reveals that God is the one who is holding the banquet, and we are the ones invited. We are “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” We are quite unable to repay God for his goodness to us. This is a simple statement of fact. If we think that accepting God’s invitation is somehow beneath our dignity, and we prefer to wait until we can pay our own way into his banquet, obviously we will never be able to enter. But if we can let go of our desire for control and self-sufficiency, then we can enter in with rejoicing, praising God for his boundless love and mercy for us.
Do I really seek to be small and humble or do I seek to be noticed by others? Do I have “an attentive ear” to listen carefully as I ponder on God’s word? How do I embrace my poverty before God?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.