Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016
in Ordinary Time
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalm 68:4-7, 10-11
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Luke 14:1, 7-14
The American storyteller Mark Twain is credited with the saying, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." Essentially, Twain is insisting that "words matter."
Sometimes examining the historical origins, or etymology, of a word can provide valuable insights into its meaning.
Take the word "humility," for example. If you trace its history far enough, you can find that it is based on the Latin word "humus," or "earth." To be humble is literally to be "down to earth."
Almost all of us can think of a person who, despite his celebrity or social stature, is admired because of his humility. To say of a famous personality, "She's so down to earth!" is to pay her a compliment implying genuineness, approachability and unpretentiousness that are powerfully attractive to others.
Jesus chose to emphasize the importance of humility in today's Gospel parable at the home of one of the leading Pharisees of the town -- where, oddly enough, the dinner guests were jockeying for positions of honor at the table. He highlights the paradox that such seeking of favor and prestige inevitably leads to disgrace and embarrassment, while choosing to humble oneself carries the potential for exaltation. (Although the words both spring from the same Latin root, I think I would choose "humility" over "humiliation" any day!)
Jesus' parable wasn't only instructional -- it was prescient. His own freely chosen death on the cross was the ultimate act of humility, leading not only to his own exaltation at the right hand of the Father, but to our own lifting up.
In great humility lies great power, for it dismantles the walls that keep our hearts closed to love. Humility changes moralizing to loving example and mere proselytizing to authentic evangelization.
Put another way, it's what "folk evangelist" Johnny Cash advises in song:
"Come heed me, my brothers, come heed, one and all/ Don't brag about standing or you'll surely fall./ You're shining your light and shine it you should/ But you're so heavenly minded, you're no earthly good."
This column is offered in cooperation with The North Texas Catholic of Fort Worth, Texas.