Luke 14: 7-11
The Timeliness of Humility
Humility is one of those abstract words that is hard, at least for me, to define. I looked up Humility in the Websters dictionary recently, and the definition given was this: Noun, the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc. Then, I looked it up in a couple of theological dictionaries and they said this: that in the Hebrew, the word for humility is Anaw. Anaw indicates the act of humility as well as the profoundness of meekness. Anaw also indicates that God, Yahweh, shows favor to the humble, and that the humble are easily taught by God. In addition, it is the humble, and those who are afflicted who have a spirit of dependence upon God, which Yahweh promises to watch over.
In New Testament Greek, Humility, the word tapeinoo caries various shades of meaning. It can mean to make small, or to be obedient. When Saint Paul uses the word, tapeinoo, humility, he indicates that the word implies the compassion necessary to know what's it's like to be in need. To know what's it's like to be in need. That’s a phrase that makes me pause and think.
Okay...that all sounds well and good. But I still struggle with the absolute meaning of humility. Does humility mean that since you are meek, that you have no courage? Does humility mean to have no back bone, and let others walk all over you? My search for the meaning, came up with the resonating answer that humility is a calmness in God...it's in the openness to listen to God and not to the self-indulgent echoes of yourself or others. As far as courage, humility is the strength to follow Jesus. Humility is a Christian practice. It's what is called a Spiritual Discipline. So, what is a Christian practice? One defining quote I found, said this, “The things people do together over time to address fundamental human needs, in response to, and in the light of, God's active presence for the life of the world.”
So, enough of the definitions and what does Jesus mean by the giving and telling of this parable. Let me reread it....
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
I heard a story in my Christian Education course. It was the story of Le Chambon France during World War II. Le Chambon is a village about 350 miles south of Paris in south-central France. This small village is known for giving sanctuary to 5000 Jews fleeing the Holocaust by 5000 Christians. That’s interesting: a one to one ratio. The Christian people of Le Chambon sheltered Jewish refugees. They did this and educated the sheltered children, as well as, arranged for hundreds to escape to safety in Switzerland or Spain through a well organized underground network. Le Chambon has long been recognized for their hospitality. But even more so, they should be recognized for their bravery and humility in following Christ. They could have easily in the words of the French Prime Minister in 2004 while celebrating the victories of Le Chambon, not stood up to all the dangers ; but instead they chose courage, generosity and dignity. And, I might add, humility and faith.
Pastor Andre Trocme served the people of Le Chambon during the years of the Holocaust. Through his direction, the Nazis never took any of the people hidden ,nor the people who gave them welcome and sanctuary in private homes, on farms and in public institutions. When authorities questioned possible wide-scale rescue activities in the region, they demanded the pastor to stop. His response was to say, “These people came here for help and for shelter. I am their shepherd. A shepherd does not forsake his flock. I do not know what a Jew is. I know only human beings.”
Maybe Trocme's words echo a stronger religious admonition....Jesus' words to us: Love One Another. The people of Le Chambon gave a banquet and invited the poor, the crippled and the lame. They knew somehow in the end that they would be blessed for their humility. Because, those who they brought to the table could not repay. The Christians of Le Chambon went past self-interest. Needless to say, they put their very lives on the line out of dignity and humility in Christ. They did not think they were superior to the Jews. They just knew what they needed to do. They exercised the spiritual practice of humility and in return they extended hospitality and protection, spreading God's love to those who needed it. They gave because others needed it. I read once that a person may give to another, simply because he or she could not help it. In other words, something seizes them to give, and to love. This type of giving is the only real way to give. As in Jesus’ parable, the law of the kingdom is this-if someone gives to gain reward, he or she will not be given any type of reward. But if someone gives with with no thought of reward (just doing what is right), then the reward is certain. The only real giving is that which is the uncontrollable outflow of love.
The allowing for that uncontrollable outflow of love, which comes directly from God, is what I term as humility. Interestingly enough. this parable in Luke is sandwiched between a story about the scrutiny of hostile men (Jesus being questioned by the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath); and a story of the King's banquet and the King's guests (the parable that addresses those who are too busy or those too preoccupied within their world to recognize that they invited guests of the banquet housed in the kingdom of God.)
I titled this sermon, The Timeliness of Humility. Humility does not stop with stories like Le Chambon, France. Humility occurs everyday. Humility also, and most notably, takes patience and trust in God. Humility is not the attitude of I’m right; they’re right; that person is wrong, or they’re all wrong. My way...my interest..Those types of stances are what is called pride. Humility, Christ’s humility, is comprised of the trusting, the faithfulness, the patience, and the openness to God. It’s finding the dignity to recognize God in our lives; and to recognize of all of God’s people, and their importance. No matter what. There’s a lot of tension in the world today. We are a fallen people. So, it’s a given that there is always tension. But it’s seems more ostensible now, economically, politically and socially. It’s in these times that we ask for God to give us humility. Humility, the spiritual discipline that is always timely.