Yesterday, one of my favorite sports began anew, college football. One of the truths is that on any given Saturday, any team can win. Even the best can be beaten by a weaker team if they believe themselves as too good for defeat…their pride blinds them…and they lose. Its true of any sport… Was it Red Sox pride that got in the way or was it just great pitching from the Yankees that lead to the Bronx Bombers beating up on Boston last week?
Of course that is true about ourselves too, pride can blind us when we do not look beyond ourselves, thinking we know it or have it all. We were not made to be prideful, to think of ourselves alone or ourselves as the greatest…in the words from our first reading: “pride was not created for human beings, or violent anger for those born of women.” It is one thing to have some pride in our work or accomplishments, to honor the gifts we have but it is quite another to see them apart from God or to believe ours are superior to everyone else. This is to be arrogant and lose sight of the ties of love that binds us one to another. The author of the first reading helps us see the wisdom of God, and how as we heard this morning: that “arrogance is hateful to the Lord and to mortals, the beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.”
I think of the story told by Muhammad Ali to his young daughter…
A king sensed something special about his slave Omar. Omar served the king well as his personal attendant. The king rewarded Omar for his faithful service with a beautiful robe and set of clothes. A courtier was very jealous of Omar and looked for a way to discredit him before the King. He noticed that every day Omar took a large sack into the royal treasury and left with the same sack. The courtier immediately reported to the king that Omar was stealing. The next morning, the king hid outside the chamber to see for himself. As usual, Omar entered the room, opened the sack - and took out of the sack his old slave robe. In the large mirror in the treasury, Omar said to the reflection: "Omar, once you were a slave. Never forget who are you are and how blessed you are." The king was deeply moved by Omar's humility. "I knew there was something special about you. I may be a king; Omar, but you have a king's heart." (from Hana Ali, More than a Hero)
Omar remembers who he is, he is not puffed up because of his new position or his new clothes. He does not presume to have a higher place, but it is the king who exalts this humble man whose heart is set right. God honors the humble in heart, is that not what the psalmist says, their heart is right; they put their trust in the Lord. We should not presume a place of honor or exalt ourselves. It is with pride that the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.
But in humility we find our heart is with God and that is what Jesus tells his disciples. Think of Jesus at the dinner party from Today’s Gospel. There he watches people take the seats of honor & privilege. So he tells them a parable… “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, go and sit down at the lowest place. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Don’t take one of the best seats, for there might be someone who is the more honored guest… His parable is not just about a dinner party, but about our whole lives, and those whom God honors.
Humility helps us see our place in God’s creation, that we are no better & no worse than anyone else, God created us in God’s image and equal to one another. It is a lesson for sports, a lesson for life for when we do succeed to celebrate graciously, but its not just thinking about ourselves in humble ways, but Jesus wants us to think of our neighbors, especially those who are often forgotten in our society.
Jesus said, “when you give a luncheon or a dinner, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you.” Quite a contrast to inviting the movers and shakers, the privileged, the ones who would repay us. But it is those who can’t repay us, who need our help, these are the ones Jesus said we should invite. It is to see others through the eyes of humility, out of love and respect, that not only looks to our own well being, but the well being of family, of community, of all; humility is part and parcel of being a disciple of Jesus.
As TS Eliot puts it, "the only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility; humility is endless." And in the end, today that’s all that Jesus asks of us. Amen.