August 28, 2016
There is a standard setting for controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees. Whenever you the setting is on the Sabbath and Jesus is dining at the home of a Pharisee, you know there is going to be some difference of opinion between Jesus and the Pharisees. In the very practical act of choosing a place to eat, Jesus begins to quote wisdom to the guests. His advice is good advice for a social setting. In fact, his teaching is not so much Christian as simply good manners. Jesus points out that in a social gathering, it is quite natural for people to seek to honored positions. The honored position is desirable because it is also a position of power. Like all creatures of this world, the position of power is one we instinctively seek. Just as the most powerful animal is the one who gets the food first and thus, has more chance of survival, so it is with us. Our seeking of power is seen in achieving the top social position. We seek promotion in our jobs. Think about it, the higher your position in some company or other institution, the more you get paid and you have people with lower positions doing whatever you tell them to do. A person with a higher position, by getting paid more, will also have more saved for the future. In short, the position of power ensures the good life now and especially later.
That is the way of our world and there is nothing wrong with it per se. If you want a position in the world Jesus offers, you have to think a bit differently. The position of power in the life Jesus offers is attained by doing exactly what is opposite of what our instinct is here. Because the world of Jesus is governed by love, not instinct, the person of power in his world is the person who loves intensely. Love is nothing else than the seeking the good of the other. It is a willingness to give our life to the other so that they may prosper. Here is the core of the message today. Love is the chief virtue as St. Paul tells us. It binds all other virtues together and perfects them. All virtues are interdependent. For instance, it takes courage to be honest. Prudence, or sound judgment, is required to intend good actions. The virtue of humility is the one that Jesus focuses on today. Humility is the virtue by which we recognize that we, ourselves, are nothing. Even if you have great wealth and power here and now, there will come a time when you don’t have it. Humility is the virtue by which we know that we are from the humus, the dirt and it is only by the power of God that we are more than that. Humility requires two virtues in particular for it to be effective in our lives, honesty and courage. The person who is humble must also be honest and courageous, for it takes courage and an honesty with ourselves to know that we are nothing of ourselves; that we have talents and are able to do things by the will of someone greater. The humble person is a strong person, because they know who they are. Not only that but they know who they are before God and others. Humility is required to truly know the salvation Jesus offers. The Pharisees who rejected Jesus lacked humility. They thought it was their own observance of the law that made them worthy of God; as such, their attitude prevented them from accepting what Jesus offered. Jesus ends his lesson on good manners by offering advice to those who want real power, the power to live eternally. Give of yourself to others, especially those who can do nothing for you here, for they can do much more for you in the life that is above this one.
Father Ken Harder