Fr. Bill Carroll – The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 28, 2022
Jesus said, “When YOU are invited, go and sit down at the LOWEST place.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Humility is a virtue. Whatever else we may be in the world’s eyes, God calls us to be simple, humble people—to live as brothers and sisters. St. Bernard of Clairvaux once said that “No spiritual house can stand for a moment, except on the foundation of humility.”
Pride, by contrast, can close the channels of grace. Why trust God, when we can do it all on our own? Why worship God, when we see ourselves as self-sufficient? The road to sin and death is often paved with pride. Excessive pride can destroy any community—including the Church. We shut people out, when we should invite them in. But, more importantly, when we fail to be humble, we are less useful to God.
When we are humble, we place ourselves at God’s disposal. We listen to the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. We seek out the low places, because that’s where Jesus is found. He is born outside the inn. He dies outside the city gate. He is found among the lowly—among the excluded and the forgotten. If we form relationships with these people—in these places—we will find him. And we will find God.
Humility means accepting our God-given place—whatever it is. It means going where God sends us—wherever that may be. If we are humble, we do not claim a better place for ourselves. We sit in the lowest place, until God asks us to move. Humility shatters our false self-image. It removes our illusions of control. It unmasks the lies we tell each other—and the lies we tell ourselves.
But humility doesn’t mean accepting the place that just anyone gives us. Only God knows who we are and where we belong. Ultimately, we belong to God. Other people can speak the Word of God to us—but often they speak only for themselves
And so, it was an act of humility when Rosa Parks sat down in the front seat of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She refused to let the white majority define who she was. Instead, she insisted that she was a child of God. In a similar way, it is an act of humility when an abused woman asserts her dignity—and seeks safety for herself and her children. So too, humility is at work, whenever those who have been excluded and oppressed claim their rightful place at God’s table.
How else can we understand the behavior of Jesus in the Gospel? Which of us would dare speak like that to our host? “When you give a luncheon or a dinner,” Jesus says, “do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors…But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Presumably, his host has done the opposite. He has invited the people he knows can repay his generosity. And all the guests witness the exchange. Jesus doesn’t know his place (at least as the world defines it). His behavior is outrageous.
But he isn’t being rude. Jesus is doing exactly what God sent him to do. He is inviting us to a better feast—where all are welcome. He is introducing us to a better host—the God of grace. And he is summoning us all to that joyful feast of the last days, when God will reign on earth.
This is the feast that we remember and anticipate in every celebration of the Eucharist. It is the community we long for, when we pray “Thy Kingdom Come.” In that Kingdom, everyone has a place at the table—beginning with those who count the least (and come in last) in the world as we have made it.
Humility is indeed the foundation for all Christian virtues. Jesus calls us to abandon every form of privilege for the sake of God’s new community of love.
But don’t confuse his humility with weakness. In many ways, as we see it,, Jesus is weak. He offers salvation free-of-charge and doesn’t force anyone to accept it. He makes himself vulnerable to us sinners and the powers that be. He comes into conflict with the world and our violence, and he suffers and dies at our hands.
But Jesus is also strong. As the Apostle Paul once put it, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom—and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” And so, Jesus is never afraid to speak the truth to us. He is consistent in opposing evil, and he never, ever fails to love us. Like the prophets before him, Jesus pronounces God’s blessings on the poor, the meek, and all who have no other helper. He announces God’s Kingdom, where the last will be first—and the first will be last.
And Jesus calls us (he calls us) to bear witness to the Kingdom. He calls us to go and prepare the world for its arrival. We are to be gentle with other people, but bold in the Gospel. We are to speak the truth in public, because we are following the world’s true king. And, like Jesus, we live in a world where some feast and make merry, while others starve to death.
And so, this is what Jesus tells us today: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner,” he says, “do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return…But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”
Blessed are those who hear his Word…and do it.