22nd Sunday of the Year Sirach 3:17–18, 20, 28–29; Hebrews 12:18–19, 22–24a; Luke 14:1, 7–14
The real Charlie Brown Humility means to live as Jesus lived, not for ourselves but for others.
Some time ago in Florida, the St. Petersburg Times carried an interesting story about Don Shula, the coach of the Miami Dolphins. He was vacationing with his family in a small town in northern Maine.
One afternoon it was raining. So Shula, his wife, and his five children decided to attend a matinee movie in the town’s only theater.
When they arrived, the house lights were still on in the theater. There were only six other people present. When Shula and his family walked in, all six people stood up and applauded. He waved and smiled.
As Shula sat down, he turned to his wife and said, “We’re a thousand miles from Miami and they’re giving me a standing ovation. They must get the Dolphins on television all the way up here.’’
Then a man came up to shake Don Shula’s hand. Shula beamed and said, “How did you recognize me?’’
The man replied, “Mister, I don’t know who you are. All I know is that just before you and your family walked in the theater manager told us that unless four more people showed up we wouldn’t have a movie today.’’
Ilike that story because it clarifies the teaching of today’s readings, namely, that our Christian commitment calls us to be humble people.
It calls us to be the kind of Christian that Don Shula showed himself to be in that story.
Here was a man whose reputation extended across the country, not only as an excellent coach but also as an excellent human being.
It was only natural for Shula to think that the man who came over to shake his hand knew who he was.
When it turned out that he didn’t, Shula was the first to laugh at himself. In fact, he enjoyed the incident so much that he shared it with others. Only a humble person would do a thing like that.
That raises a question. Just what is humility? What does it mean to be humble?
Does it mean to put ourselves down? Does it mean to think little of ourselves? Does it mean to deny our true worth, or to belittle it?
Not at all! Humility is something far more profound and far more beautiful than that. Humility isn’t thinking little of ourselves. It’s not thinking of ourselves at all.
In its most profound and most beautiful sense, humility means to be like Jesus, who said, “Learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit. . . .” Matthew 11:29
It means to be like Jesus, who said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.” Mark 10:45
Humility means to live as Jesus lived not for ourselves, but for others.
It means to use our talents as Jesus used his not for ourselves and our own glory, but for others and their needs.
Let me illustrate with an example.
Charles Schulz made the Peanuts character Charlie Brown a household word. Few people know, however, that Charlie Brown is based on a real person. The real Charlie Brown worked with Schulz in the Bureau of Engraving in Minneapolis.
Eventually both men quit the Bureau. Schulz became a cartoonist. Charlie Brown became a counselor for convicted juvenile delinquents, often housing them in his own home. Charlie died of cancer in December 1983. After his death a coworker wrote:
“Charlie was my boss for three years at the Detention Center. . . . After the kids were in bed, we passed the remaining hours of the evening shift in long conversations.
“Charlie was a devout Roman Catholic. . . . He saw his own life . . . as the doing of daily works of charity in imitation of Christ and the saints.’’*
The coworker went on to say that often the doorbell and the phone at the Detention Center rang late at night. It was usually some boy asking, “Is Charlie Brown there?’’ The coworker also said that during his stay at the Detention Center not one young man who lived with Charlie ever returned to prison. And this was one of the reasons why Charlie was frequently asked to give workshops for professions and to lecture on penology and social work at the University of Minnesota. * Larry Rasmussen, “The Real Charlie Brown,’’ The Christian Century (March 21–28, 1984).
Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz remained close friends to the end. Schulz occasionally offered Charlie a share in the profits from some Charlie Brown spin-off, like T-shirts or toys. But Charlie never accepted a dollar.
Nor did Charlie ever volunteer to anyone that he was the real Charlie Brown.
And so to this day, many of the kids who rang the doorbell of the Detention Center late at night, asking “Is Charlie Brown there?’’ had no idea whom they were asking for.
That story is a living example of what Jesus means when he says, “Learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit. . . .”
It is a living example of what Jesus means when he says, “The Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.” It is a living example of the power and the beauty of the virtue of humility when lived out courageously in a truly Christian life.
It is a living example of the invitation that Jesus holds out to you and to me here this morning.
Let’s close by reflecting prayerfully on these inspiring words about humility in today’s first reading:
“Son, be humble in everything you do, and people will appreciate it more than gifts. The greater you become, the more humble you should be, then the Lord will be pleased with you.”
Series II 22nd Sunday of the Year Sirach 3:17–18, 20, 28–29; Hebrews 12: 18–19, 22–24; Luke 14:1, 7–14
The parable Humility means to live as Jesus did—not for ourselves but for others.
An Arabian parable concerns a horseman galloping through the night across a plain. He is headed for the City of the Sun, which lies on the other side of a great valley.
As he rides along in the darkness, he suddenly hears a voice shout: “Halt! Dismount! Pick up some stones! Put them in your pocket. Tomorrow at sunrise you will be sad and glad.’’
The voice sounded as if it should be obeyed, so the horseman dismounted, picked up several stones, and put them in his pocket. Then he rode on.
About an hour later, the horseman heard the same voice. Once again it gave the same command: “Halt! Dismount! Pick up some stones! Put them in your pocket. Tomorrow at sunrise you will be sad and glad.’’ Again the horseman obeyed and rode on.
Then, about an hour later, as the horseman was about to descend into the great valley, the same thing happened. And, again, he obeyed.
Then the horseman began his descent into the great valley. The path was steep and dangerous. Soon the stones in his pocket began to pinch his leg and cause him pain. So he began to pull them out one by one and throw them away.
Finally, about sunrise the next morning, the horseman arrived at the other side of the valley.
As he did, he reached into his pocket to throw away the last stone, because it is causing him great pain.
As he took the stone into his hand, he noticed that it felt strange. The horseman looked at it and saw that it had changed into a diamond.
At that moment he was both sad and glad. He was sad that he had thrown away all the other stones, but he was glad that he, at least, had kept this one. That story, of course, is a parable about life. The plain stands for childhood, when we are told to do this or that without being told why. For example, we are told to be honest. We are told to be truthful. We are told to be generous. If we do these things, someday we will be glad.
The stones that the horseman picked up and put in his pocket stand for the virtues of honesty, truthfulness, and generosity. We acquire these by obeying the commands of our parents and our teachers.
The steep valley stands for adult life, when these virtues are tested severely. Then we are tempted to throw them away, as the horseman threw away the stones when they began to pinch and to pain him.
We say to ourselves: Why be honest when other people cheat? Why be truthful when other people are not? Why be generous when others are selfish?
Every adult gets temptations like these. And many adults give in to the temptations. This brings us to an important question.
What is one stone or virtue that we should never throw away? What is one virtue that we should keep, even if we throw away all the others?
One elderly woman gave this answer to that question: “The one virtue that you should never throw away is the virtue of humility.’’
When asked why this virtue is so important, she responded, “It’s the one virtue that Jesus used to describe himself. He said, ‘[L]earn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit.’ ” Matthew 11:29
That story fits in beautifully with today’s readings. For the first reading and the gospel reading both talk about the importance of humility.
What is humility? What does it mean to be humble?
Does it mean to put ourselves down? Does it mean to think little of ourselves? Does it mean to deny our true worth?
Not at all! Humility is something more profound than that. Humility is not thinking little of ourselves. Humility is not thinking of ourselves at all.
In its most profound sense, humility means to be like Jesus, who said, He said, ‘[L]earn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit.’ ”
Humility means to be like Jesus, who said, “[T]he Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve.” Mark 10:45
Humility means to live as Jesus lived not for ourselves but for others. It means to use our talents and gifts as Jesus used his not for ourselves and our own glory but for others and their needs.
There’s a story about three people who were discussing recent translations of the Bible.
The first person said, “I like the New American translation that we read at Mass. It has modernized the language without sacrificing reverence for God’s word.’’
The second person said, “I like the Jerusalem Bible that we read in our Bible study group. It has poeticized the language without sacrificing the meaning of God’s word.’’
The third person said, “I like my mother’s translation of the Bible. She has translated the Bible into life and made it live by her example. Her translation is the best translation of all.’’
That story sums up the challenge that Jesus sets before us in today’s gospel. Jesus challenges us to translate God’s word into everyday life. He challenges us to live the Bible. He challenges us to make the Bible live. He challenges us to use our talents and gifts not for ourselves and our own glory but for others and their needs.
This is the challenge that Jesus sets before us in today’s readings. This is the challenge that he holds out to us in today’s liturgy.
Let’s close with St. Ignatius’ Prayer for Generosity:
“Lord, teach me to be generous.
“Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that I am doing your will.’’
Series III 22nd Sunday of the Year Sirach 3:17–18, 20, 28–29; Hebrews 12:18–19, 22–24a; Luke 14:1, 7–14
Humility Humility is not thinking little of self, but not thinking of self at all.
Jesus said,] “[T]hose who humble themselves will be made great.” Luke 14:11
Edward Hays wrote a book entitled Feathers on the Wind. In it he quotes a Japanese soldier as making an amazing statement.
The soldier confessed that in the final days of World War II, ammunition was so scarce in parts of Japan that antiaircraft gunners began firing blanks at U.S. planes.
Why blanks? They wanted to give the impression that they were defending the people.
They risked their lives to keep up the appearance of defending their homeland, even though they knew they were not.
Some time ago, a group of college students was discussing the Japanese soldier’s confession in one of their classes. In the course of the discussion, a student said jokingly:
“When I was in high school, I did what those antiaircraft gunners did. I fired blanks to impress people. By that I me an that I used to exaggerate what I did on weekends, and in conversation I’d drop names.
“Then one day one of my teachers said in an offhand way, ‘When you try to make an impression, that is exactly the impression you make.’ That kind of cured me.”
We can all relate to the college student’s confession, because we’ve all gone through that stage to some extent. There’s a humorous story that illustrates the turmoil of that stage of our life.
Two senior citizens were sitting on a park bench, watching high school students walk by to school. After a while, one said to the other:
“When I was the age of these students I was constantly worried about what other people thought of me.
“For example, I worried about such things as whether they thought I was good-looking or whether they thought I was cool.
“Then one day when I got a little older and a little wiser, I said to myself, ‘I’m tired of all this nonsense. I don’t care what other people think of me.’
“Finally, when I got still older and still wiser, I discovered the real truth. Most of the people I worried about weren’t thinking about me at all.”
This brings us to Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel. He says:
“[T]hose who make themselves great will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be made great.” Luke 14:11
That raises a question. What does it mean to be humble?
Does it mean to put ourselves down? Does it mean to think little of ourselves?
Does it mean to deny our true worth or to belittle it?
Not at all! Humility is something far more positive and far more beautiful than that.
Humility isn’t thinking little of ourselves, or putting ourselves down, or denying our true worth.
Quite the contrary, it is not thinking about ourselves at all.
Humility is living as Jesus lived not with our focus on ourselves but with our focus on others. It is imitating Jesus, who said, “[T]he Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve.” Mark 10:45
A story will illustrate.
One day a tourist ran across a plaque on a monument in London. It read:
To the memory of Charles Gordon Who at all times and everywhere gave His Strength to the Weak, His Substance to the Poor, His Sympathy to the Suffering, and His Heart to God.
The tourist was so moved by the plaque that he copied the words down. Later he did some research to find out who Charles Gordon was.
It turned out that he was a famous British general who was honored by many countries.
Of course, his own native England sought to honor him in many ways too with pensions, titles, and the like. But Gordon always refused. In the end, however, he did agree to accept a single gold medal with a brief inscription on it.
After his death, the medal couldn’t be found anywhere.
Then one day it was learned why the gold medal couldn’t be found.
Toward the end of his life, Gordon had it melted down. He then sold the gold and gave the money to the poor. On the date of the gift, he wrote this entry in his personal diary:
The last earthly thing I had in this world that I valued, I have given to the Lord.
That story is a living example of what Jesus meant when he said, “[L]earn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit.” Matthew 11:29
It is a living example of what Jesus meant when he said, “[T]he Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve.”
It is a living example of the beauty of the virtue of humility when it is lived out courageously in a truly Christian life.
It is a living example of the invitation that Jesus holds out to each one of us in this church.
And so humility is not putting ourselves down. It is not thinking little of ourselves. It is not denying our self-worth. Rather, it is not thinking about ourselves at all.
It is simply imitating Jesus, who said, “[T]he Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve.”
As we sit waiting for the taking up of the collection to be completed, you might reflect on those beautiful words at the beginning of today’s first reading:
[My sons and daughters,] be humble in everything you do, and people will appreciate it more than gifts. . . . [T]hen the Lord will be pleased with you. Sirach 3:17–18