September 1, 2013
ORDINARY 22 (C)
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. – Luke 14: 11
A large crowd near a pond in a large zoo was watching admiringly as a peacock slowly spread its great tail & displayed it stunning plumage. The great bird stood erect & noble & strutted regally. Just then an old, gray duck waddled slowly from the pond & passed the proud peacock & the admiring crowd. Enraged, the peacock drove the duck back to the water. The beautiful bird had become ugly with a fierce anger. The plain & awkward duck, having returned to its natural habitat, was no longer unbecoming. In the water it swam & dove gracefully, unaware that many eyes were watching. Those who admired the proud peacock now loved the duck.
The setting for today’s Gospel is a Sabbath meal at the home of an important religious leader. In the midst of all the table-talk, Jesus chooses to raise the level of conversation with His timeless instruction on humility: if we want to be esteemed, we have to seek the lowest place.
Soon after Harry Truman became President of the United States, Sam Rayburn took him aside to give him some advice: “From here on out, Mr. President, you’re going to have lots of people around you. They’ll try to put a wall around you & cut you off from any ideas but theirs. They’ll tell you what a great man you are, Harry. But you & I both know you’re not.”
Humility is the basis for completeness in life. If we truly believe that a life disciplined in humility can grow, improve, change, forgive & love, then we are on the path to the new life Jesus offers us. Christian humility is a strength that frees us from the “tyranny of the should.” It is not a weakness, but a sweet spiritual blessing that leaves a good taste in one’s soul.
Modern values make it difficult for us to be humble or even talk about it. We are pressured on all sides to resist this touchstone of Christian living. We are living in an age that exalts a more aggressive style of life. We are taught the supreme value of “getting ahead,” of grabbing for the golden ring.
A pastor printed this motto on the top of his parish bulletin: “Life is a love, not a competition.” That Sunday his phone rang off the hook. One of the callers said, “You are wrong! Life IS competition. It’s easy for you to print those nice-sounding phrases. But we live in the real world where life IS a competition.” Apparently, even many Christians find it inconceivable that “Life is a love, not a competition.” Yet this is precisely the point Jesus makes when He asks us to trust in the abundant joys that will belong to those who are not preoccupied with attaining status & prestige.
It has been said that one who boasts of his ancestors is like a potato growing in a field: the best part is underground. Abraham Lincoln put it this way: “I don’t know who my grandfather was. I’m much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.” Which is it to be? We can adopt the world’s dog-eat-dog philosophy of fierce competition, or we can trust in Christ who tells us that we have come to serve, not be served.
In one of his many books, Robert Schuller discusses a meeting of 9 of the world’s leading financiers in Chicago in 1923 & their fate twenty-five years later. The president of the largest independent steel company lived on borrowed money for five years before committing suicide. The President of the largest utility in Chicago had become a fugitive from justice & died a pauper in a foreign land. The president of the largest Gas Co. had gone mad. The greatest wheat speculator was penniless when he died in a foreign land. The president of the New York Stock Exchange had served a prison term. A member of the cabinet of the President of the U.S. had been pardoned during a prison term so he could die at home. After 25 years, the greatest “Bear” on Wall St. died a suicide. The head of the world’s greatest monopoly had committed suicide. Finally, the Pres. of the Bank of International Settlements had also committed suicide.
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, & he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus is telling us that we cannot BUY our way into His kingdom, nor can we push our way into it. Life, especially eternal life, is a love & not a competition. AMEN!