06 Sep Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 1st, 2019
Deacon Blaine Barclay
I begin with a quote from the opening page of a beautiful book, ‘The Bread of God’,written by my godfather, Brother Anthony Opisso.
“We are the dough.
Humility rests in knowing we are dust:
Flour which the waters of Baptism through the Holy Spirit forms into dough. Meekness is letting ourselves be handled by Him.
By His hands that kneed and press the mass to be shaped into the mold He desires: Jesus Christ….”
I think it captures quite well the theme of our readings today. Beginning with the poet of the Book of Sirach telling us, “To the humble the Lord reveals his secrets”. To Jesus in the gospel today teaching us about Messianic table manners, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”. And hidden between these two slices of humble pie is embedded in the book of Hebrews, a teaching about boldness and confidence in approaching the throne of grace. Something which at first glance might seem to be contrary to humility, but is not.
We sometimes think of humility as a kind of groveling, putting ourselves down, beating ourselves up, because of our extreme unworthiness. Pushed to its extremes this can slip into self hatred and a refusal to acknowledge just how much we are loved by God. Rejection of the gift of our humanity is a rejection of the goodness of the Creator. There is also the trap of a false display of humility which can be a subtle mask for pride. Look at how humble I am. Or, as the old country song goes, “O, Lord it’s so hard to be humble, when your perfect in every way.”
True humility is a form of self knowledge. ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’ The biblical words for humility can also be translated as gentleness, kindness, mildness, gracious, poor, and meek. One of the Beatitudes can be translated as, “Blessed are the humble, they will inherit the earth”.The humble person is the the one without power or status, standing with docile openness in the presence of God. Availability. Again,“To the humble the Lord reveals his secrets”. Humility is a virtue, a form of human excellence. The practice of humility is the medicinal cure for the sin of pride. Only the humble person can act without self promotion and assertion. Putting God and the other before self. “I am third”.
Throughout the gospels Jesus is forever scandalizing and instructing us with his own practice of table fellowship. His willingness to eat with tax collectors and sinners. Cooking bread and fish for his disciples. Washing their feet in the middle of a meal. Himself modeling, “taking the lowest place”, the place of the servant, the slave. Turning the social world upside down, transgressing and disrupting its established norms of etiquette. Again, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.
Extending to all a place at the table. Or, as my favourite Mennonite cookbook says in its title, ‘Extending the table’. Jesus says, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind”. By boldly practicing such social generosity, that breaks down barriers, we anticipate what the letter to the Hebrews today calls, ‘Mount Zion, ‘the city of the living God’, ‘the heavenly Jerusalem’, in the company of ‘the Angels in festal gathering’, ‘the firstborn’, ‘the righteous made perfect’. This is the Messianic banquet, the wedding feast of the Kingdom of God.
So humility and bold confidence in God’s overflowing generosity are not incompatible. In fact they flow out of each other. We are bold because we are confident in God’s bottomless compassion. We invite others to the feast because we ourselves have been invited and transformed by the feast. Because we also are “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind”, and know ourselves to be such, we can act in solidarity with all those who share our human condition. Surprised by Grace. Not because we are worthy. It is all gift, not something we have merited or earned. Only the humble are available to accept and to extend such an invitation. We have been called out of nothingness, to be a people set apart to do God’s will. To Extend the table of mercy.