30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  In order to live out the words of Our Lord from today’s Gospel, two things are necessary: a proper understanding of what it means to be humble, and a true knowledge of ourselves.

True humility is not about putting ourselves down, or imagining that we do not have anything good to offer.  In order to be truly humble, we have to acknowledge truth: we have to be connected with reality.  Our fallen human nature is inclined towards sin and sin is always an excess in one direction or another.  Virtue is not simply just the opposite of one sin or vice, it is usually the middle between two vices.  For example, courage is not merely the opposite of cowardice.  On the opposite end of the spectrum from cowardice is rashness, or foolish lack of regard for danger.  To be truly courageous, one has to avoid both the temptation to cowardice and the temptation to be rash.  Someone who is truly courageous doesn’t rush blindly into danger, but the courageous person also doesn’t shrink from the danger.

The same is true of being humble: humility is the middle between two opposite vices.  To be truly humble, we have to avoid the temptation on the one hand that we have to inordinately exult ourselves above everyone else and even above God; on the other side, we also have to resist the temptation to unduly regard ourselves as completely unable of doing anything good and fall into the temptation of despair and discouragement.  True humility helps us to see our own dignity as sons and daughters of God.  True humility also helps us to see that we are all sinners who stand in need of God’s mercy.

Humility helps us to proper order our lives.  It helps us to love God above all things and others as ourselves.  True humility is not about saying that there is no good in us; true humility recognizes that the good that is in us comes, not from us, but from the hand of God as a gift.  True humility enables us to see our brothers and sisters as sons and daughters of God and helps us to remember that we are all equal before God.  Humility helps me to remember that the gifts and talents I have, I have received.

If I am good at math or sports or playing a musical instrument I should recognize that God gave me my mind, my body and my talents.  Even if I have spent a lot of time practicing to become good at something, God gave me the motivation and the work ethic to put in those hours of practice.  God gives each of us different gifts and talents and we are to thank Him for those gifts and talents and use them for His greater glory and honor.  All that we have, we have received as a gift.  It is good to give thanks for the many gifts and blessings in our lives and it is good to return thanks to God by offering back to Him all that He has given to us.

The first part of being humble, then, is about understanding and acknowledging God as the source of all good things, the source of all life, and praising and thanking Him for it.  The second part of being humble is to also have a true knowledge of our selves.  This is where the Pharisee that we heard about in the Gospel today fell short.  He looked at himself as if he was not a sinner.  The reality is that we are all sinners; Scripture says that even the just man falls seven times a day.  In other words, every single one of us is a sinner and falls short of the glory of God.  God calls us to love Him with all of our hearts and with all of our minds and with all of our strength.  If we are honest, we have to admit that we fail to do that each and every day.  Our fallen human nature is weak.  We have to constantly work at being virtuous; we have to exert effort to grow in our spiritual lives.

Part of being humble is remembering that we all stand in need of God’s mercy.  You and I are not self-sufficient: we rely upon God.  God gives us all the good things that we have, and He gives us His mercy when we fail to live the way that we know we are supposed to live.  If we are aware of our own sins, we ought to be slow to judge or condemn others as the Pharisee did.  Being truly humble reminds me that I am a sinner, and I stand just as much in need of God’s mercy as others do.  When tempted to judge others, or look down on others, we ought to recall to our minds the fact that we, too, fall short of the glory of God.  To exalt ourselves over others is to deny the fact that we are sinners and all that we have that is good comes from God.

Humility reminds us of our need for God’s mercy, and at the same time it reminds us that we are redeemed and blessed in many ways.  We should seek God’s mercy whenever we fall into sin and we should remember to thank Him often for the many gifts that He bestows upon us.  True humility connects us with the reality of who we are.  It is often said that we are nothing more than what we are before God; the opposite is also true: we are no less than what we are before God.  Let us be truly humble, then, and thank God for all that He has given to us and all that He has done for us; and let us acknowledge our complete dependence upon Him.