Paul T. Keil, August 27 - 28, 2022
The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year C
Peace be with you and greetings on this, our celebration of the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Well,,, if you were listening to the readings today, you should have picked up that humility is a common theme throughout. Humility is not a real popular word in our modern culture though, is it? It is important however, that we understand there is a distinction between theological humility we read about in the Bible, as opposed to the way the word is commonly used today in 21st Century America. Friends, theological humility is so necessary for salvation, Jesus takes every opportunity to stress its importance. As Thomas Aquinas said, “humility is truth.” I’m sure everyone remembers hearing in all the Gospels how Jesus stresses the importance of being like children to enter heaven. In Matthew, he ties it to the word “humble” for clarification when he says, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Now why do you think Jesus uses the example of children to teach about humility and the kingdom of heaven?
Let me tell you a little story. Grandma and her grandson Johnny were looking at photos from a recent vacation the little boy had just taken with his parents to Yellowstone. As they leafed through the pictures grandma said, “my, how lovely. It’s as though God painted these beautiful scenes of nature just for you.” And Johnny responded, “yes it does grandma, but God had to paint with his left hand.” Now, naturally grandma was a little curious about Johnny’s left hand of God comment so she asked him to explain. “Well,” Johnny said, “in our religious ed class Ms. Trina told us Jesus sits on the right hand of God.” So, how do you think grandma reacted? Maybe with a chuckle and a hug? Friends, that’s called naive innocence.
Here is what St. Ambrose says about Jesus using children to explain humility, “Perhaps because usually they are without malice, nor are they deceptive, nor do they dare avenge themselves; they have no experience of lust, do not covet riches and are not ambitious. The Lord is not referring to childhood as such, but to the innocence which children have in their simplicity.” Personally, I would sum it all up with two words that plague theological humility, pride and ego. Certainly, Jesus was trying to address pride in today’s Gospel reading about the Pharisee and his guests, and in case you haven’t looked at the list lately, pride is number one on the list of the seven deadly sins. In fact, many theologians feel we really don’t need the other six at all. St. Augustine simply said, “Sin is pride.” On the other list we call virtues however, humility stands at the top and, humility is how we combat pride. Remember theologically, humility is truth.
So let’s start at the beginning. I personally feel one of the most misunderstood stories in the whole Bible is the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. People get so wrapped up around things like talking serpents, fruit trees, and a mean old God who punished all of humanity for the sin of two people. They often miss the salvation message of the story. People have a hard time grasping a concept of Divinely inspired authors three or four thousand years ago, with no idea of modern science, phycology, or history, struggling to explain why people are so screwed up. Many read the story in a modern context as a stand-alone episode and get angry. They refuse to look at it in context of the whole of Scripture without realizing it is part of God’s love and God’s plan for salvation. Please, please, never forget this fact, the big book we call Bible has two primary corollaries. First, God is love and second, we have free will.
Now, with those two corollaries in mind, let me tell the Genesis story in a modern context with me at the center. Once upon a time I walked humbly with God. Lovingly and faithfully, I knew his will. I was innocent. It was Paradise. Then the Tempter entered the scene. With perfumed tones and seemingly perfect reason, he offered what appeared to be the sweetest fruit: Ambition! He cooed with a friendly voice, “I know what God told you, but how can, you be sure? What about you and what you want?” The truth that I knew, suddenly seemed shaken. Again, the Tempter whispered, “you can be like God.” I suddenly discovered my ego. It felt intoxicating. And so, when the fruit was offered, I bit. G.K. Chesterton called this “dislocated humility.” I became the center of my own universe. It’s now about what I want, what I expect, what I demand, what I deserve. Chesterton went on to say, “We’re all in the same boat and we’re all seasick.”
Sound far-fetched? Let me read a U.S. Supreme Court decision written in 1992 in the Planned Parenthood versus Casey Decision, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, of the mystery of human life.” Wow! Hello Lucifer. The meaning of the universe, and the mystery of human life, kind-a sounds like a God thing, doesn’t it?
OK, so what are theological humility and theological pride as we read the Bible. The two are so closely tied it’s hard to talk about one without the other but remember, humility is truth, so here is the truth. First and foremost, you are God, and I am not. I do not have the prerogative to be god with my words or my actions. Second, everything I have is a gift from God, from my family, to the socks on my feet, to my very next breath, to grace. It’s all a gift from God. And finally, I have bitten the fruit and I know what is good and what is evil. God always wants me to choose good and I have the Bible and the Church to help me. Jesus gave me wonderful guidelines with words like love of God and love of neighbor.
- I’ve come up with some simple homework – Noise tries to prevent God from speaking. 1) Find a quiet place. 2) Pray and open yourself to God’s voice. 3) Have faith and find comfort with mystery. 4) Discipline yourself spiritually. 5) Be theologically humble. Remember Jesus’ words, “Unless you make yourself as a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”