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Occupy Your God-Given Space

August 29, 2022

A reflection for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, year C. The readings are Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalm 68; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a and Luke 14:1, 7-14.

“The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” That was last week’s message. Today’s is very similar: “All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” These two messages can be better understood when we recognize that for the last couple of weeks and, in fact, for the next weeks – all the way to the Feast of Christ the King, at the end of November, the end of the Liturgical Year – Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem for the last time. This is it. He’s on his way to Calvary and so all his lessons have to do with salvation. They have to do with God’s mercy and the Kingdom of God. And so we hear a lot of parables, stories and lessons that tell us something about what we need to do to be saved; and today, it has to do with humility.

Humility is an important theme in Jesus’ ministry – not just what he preached but how he lived and how he died. In the Gospel of Luke, humility is also a big theme. It is Luke who gives us the Magnificat – that beautiful prayer that Mary prays when she goes to visit Elizabeth: “He has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly” (1:51-53).  It is also Luke that tells us that “the least among you is the greatest” (9:48) and that the greatest is the one who serves (22:26).

But, we find the theme of humility in all the Gospels and, actually, all through Scripture. In the Old Testament we hear messages like the one from our first reading today from the Book of Sirach: “conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.” And “the more you humble yourself, the greater you are, and you will find favour with God.” You can similar messages all through the Old Testament.

And in the New Testament as well; Paul mentions it in his letters too. Perhaps most famously in Philippians: “Though he was in the form of God,   Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself, and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)

Many of our Church Fathers and Saints have also written about humility:

St. Augustine said: “If you ask me what the essential thing in the religion and discipline of Jesus Christ is, I shall reply: first, humility; second, humility, and third, humility.”

St. Francis de Sales suggests that God gives us a wide berth to do stupid things sometimes, just so that we remember who we really are and cultivate humility through the experience.

St Elizabeth Seton prayed, “Oh my Jesus! . . . Let me mount to Thee on the steps of humility, on which Thou camest down to me.”

But humility, I think, gets a bad rap. We think that being humble means putting oneself down. The dictionary says that humility is “a modest or low view of one’s own importance or value.” That’s not the meaning of humility. Humility is not having a low view of one’s value. It is not putting yourself down or thinking less of yourself. Humility is having a real view of one’s value. It is actually, being realistic about who you are.  It’s not exaggerating who you are; but it’s also not diminishing who you are. That’s why C.S. Lewis can say that “humility is not thinking less of yourself; but thinking of yourself less.” Humility is being real about yourself. That’s why St. Thérèse of Lisieux, can say that, “It appears to me that humility is the truth.” She’s right.

The best definition I found about humility comes from the Hebrew word that is most often used in the Old Testament to describe humility: avanah. It translates roughly to “occupying your God-given space”. Humility means knowing who you are, accepting who you are – or who God is creating you to be – and living in that space; being that person. Perhaps an even better way to understand humility is knowing where that word comes from: humus. Humus is not that delicious chickpea and garlic spread. Humus literally means “earth”. If you want to really understand humus think of compost. That is humus. And the word human also comes from the same root. Which is why God creates Adam, from adamah, the earth and we can say, as we do on Ash Wednesday, that from earth we came and to earth we will return. If that doesn’t make you humble – or down-to-earth – I don’t know what will! When we are truly humble, we are down-to-earth and we see and love ourselves as God sees and loves us. We occupy our God-given space.

And so today Jesus is not giving us some tips on social etiquette for when we go to the next dinner party. He’s talking about salvation. He’s talking about what today’s second reading is about. Jesus is not talking about an earthly banquet he’s talking about The Heavenly Banquet. Who are you in the presence of God? When it’s just you and God? Do you see yourself as God sees you? Do you occupy our God-given space? God loves you. He loves you more than you can imagine and He knows you better than you know yourself. And He sees you as the person He is creating you to be. Do you see and love yourself as God sees and loves you?

If you want to start living in the Kingdom of God here on earth; start by occupying your God-given space. Start by being humble.

So that’s what we’re going to do this week. Let’s begin trying to occupy our God-given space. But first we need to discover what that is. So this week, every day, spend time in prayer, asking God to help you see and love yourself as he sees and loves you. Spend time in prayer, reflection and meditation about who you really are. It won’t be easy, but stick with it. Dig deep. Dig deeper than your insecurities, your fears and your failures. Dig down to your deepest hopes, dreams and desires, because God has placed those in your heart. Who is the person God is creating you to be? Can you do that every day this week? Make that your prayer, “Lord, help me see and love myself as you see and love me. ” Spend time praying about who you really are – and you will know, when it’s just you and God.

And then, next week, you can start watching yourself; how you behave, what you say – when you’re at work, in a meeting, when you’re at home with your family, in the grocery store. When you’re in a difficult moment or in a crisis or under stress… when you’re excited; when you’ve had a little to drink… how do you behave? Do you exaggerate who you are? Do you exalt yourself? Do you put yourself down or diminish yourself? Or do you occupy your God-given space? And bring it to prayer, so that little by little you’ll be growing into that person that God is creating you to be.

When we come into the Kingdom, it won’t matter if you’re in the front of the line or in the back of the line, because we are all the same in the presence of God. In the presence of God, we are all God’s beloved children. God loves you just as you are and wants you to become the person he is creating you to be.

For now, in this life, be humble, down-to-earth. Occupy your God-given space and God will exalt you.

From → English, Reflections

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