Nine times in the nine verses of today’s Gospel, we hear the word “invite.” What to do when we are invited to a wedding banquet, and what to do when we invite people. But, of course, this teaching, this advice of Jesus is not at the level of an advice columnist, an expert on social etiquette – Emily Post from the old days, Miss Manners, Ann Landers and all the rest – but is a parable about a great truth: God invites. Part of the nature of God is that God invites us, all the time, more deeply into God’s presence and power.
The word that really matters in today’s Gospel, even though it’s only used twice, is humility. “Every one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Humility is at heart of being a Christian, and, including our first reading, at the heart of our Judeo-Christian heritage. One person has called humility “our defining stance toward God.” Responding to the invitations of God in our lives ought to prompt humility, a seriousness, a restraint, a yielding, a radical self-honesty so much so that we wouldn’t even think of taking places of honor at banquets or doing any other number of silly things to boost our ego or take advantage of others. The great St. Benedict said that the first degree of humility is to keep the “reverence of God before our eyes and to never forget it.” So the two go hand-in-hand: recognizing God, being humble.
In our culture we are out of whack when it comes to humility. We watch people at awards ceremonies saying they are humbled to receive the award, but everything about them looks more like they are bragging. On the other hand, we see people moved to tears saying they are “proud” of their children or their parents or their spouses, but they are the ones showing humility. Then there’s something called the “humble-brag,” and it goes like this: “I’m so tired after two weeks in Hawaii, I need another vacation.”
So don’t look to popular culture for clues on humility, it’s a mess, stick to Christianity. Hopefully, look to older Christians as great examples. As we grow older, hopefully many of us have gotten off the treadmill of striving and ambition and ego, and have taken on the wisdom of humility, either voluntarily or involuntarily, just on a human basis, much less Gospel basis. Life itself humbles us, to a degree, the longer we live. No one can age gracefully if they are not humble at the same time.
The Gospel call to humility today is not unlike the Gospel call in general, to go more deeply and inwardly within ourselves, and to be more open to the “other” more than ourselves, whether that other is God, the ultimate other, or someone unlike us who can’t feed our ego, like the poor or the stranger. “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”