‘My son, be gentle in carrying out your business. The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly.” The Book of Ecclesiaticus incorporates much of Israel’s ancient wisdom, wisdom that determined becoming conduct in every conceivable situation. Here the sage is giving advice for the conduct of a high official at the court of Jerusalem’s establishment. This, however, is something more than the etiquette of common sense: it is rooted in our relationship with God himself, a relationship that should determine our daily conduct towards each other. “For great though the power of the Lord is, he accepts the homage of the humble. There is no cure for the proud man’s malady, since an evil growth has taken root in him.”
We rarely acknowledge the extent to which we are swayed by selfish pride, let alone the impact that such pride has on those around us. The attitude of faith is a trusting humility, a humility that enables us to come into the presence of God, a humility that enables us to accept others as God accepts them. Would that such humility guided the conduct of nations, societies, parishes and families.
St Luke’s Gospel exalts this ancient wisdom to a new level. Here it defines what every disciple must become, what must be seen in every follower of Christ. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus was speaking within the context of a meal to which he had been invited at the house of a leading Pharisee. He observed attitudes that are to be seen every day in our own society. Each had their place and worth, some to be honoured and exalted, others to be ignored or thoughtlessly humiliated. Jesus rejected such attitudes in his advice for a Wedding banquet. “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take a place of honour. No, when you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say: ‘My friend, move up higher.’”
Throughout the scriptures the wedding feast was more than a social occasion: it became the symbol of a life lived with God, whose presence is likened to the joy of a wedding feast. It is the presence set before us in the Letter to the Hebrews. “What you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God in which everyone is a ‘firstborn son’ and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God himself.”
It is quite clear, therefore, that Jesus intended humility to be the very ground of our being, a quality which, above all others, makes us like Christ who came not to be served, but serve and give his life for many.
We should never underestimate the hold of sinful pride. We long for humility, and yet most of us harbour hidden expectations of how we should be treated and received. Indeed, we are not above imposing those expectations on those closest to us. Could it be that this is the “proud man’s malady for which there is no cure, the evil growth that takes root in him”? Without in any way surrendering our God-given dignity, we should strive to relate to others as we would wish God to relate to us. Nobody ever died of bruised pride, but many have discovered in such bruised pride the humility that leads to God, that enriches our every relationship.