How (well) do you live the virtue of humility?
There is a short poem which I shared with the faculty at the beginning of this year, attributed to the sufi poet Hafiz, which goes like this:
Even after all this time,
the sun never says to the earth:
You owe me.
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights the whole sky. (2X)
Like Jesus’ invitation in today’s gospel, this brief poem invites us into a different world than where we sometimes live. Undercutting the endless scrabbling for position and prestige that continues in our day – Jesus would have us know another truth. “Let your love be like the sun that lights up the whole sky. Let your love be such that it doesn’t matter who you sit with at a wedding reception or a birthday banquet or who you stand next to having donuts in the gathering space. Let your love be so free that EVERYONE finds room at your kitchen table.” For when a love like that is unleashed upon the world, then the heavenly banquet has begun.
It can be tempting for us to think that these two stories that Jesus tells about table fellowship are just about seating charts and guest lists. I remember a time when there were not assigned seats at wedding receptions. It was always interesting to watch how and where people would put themselves. Jesus was not interested in that. Rather, the point is how do we cultivate a spirit of humility in all of life, no matter where one sits, and whether or not you will be repaid for your generosity to others. Guests at table are to be like those who receive grace from God, without a sense of entitlement. Hosts in the kingdom need to have a love which welcomes everyone.
I was thinking about this on Thursday, as we celebrated the patronal feast of the City – St. Louis IX of France. Among the many things he was known for was his practice of having 13 extra chairs at EVERY dinner he threw. (I don’t know why 13, but 12 apostles + Jesus = 13? makes sense.) It didn’t matter if it was just a family affair, or him hosting the heads of state – 13 of the poor and crippled and lame and beggers from his kingdom would be invited to share at the gifts he knew he had received so freely from God. Imagine how that kept his heart open to the needs of those on the fringes of society, even in his day. Louis wanted to keep this gospel humility front and center in his life – by taking Jesus’ words so literally.
(As an aside, perhaps one way to evaluate the candidates before us in the upcoming general elections are precisely according to the answer to that question: “Who would be welcome to their table?” Who would find support in the the laws they would enact, the policies they would put into place, the people they would bring in…? Would the unborn, the immigrants, the refugees, the orphans – would they find a home at the table?)
So, let me suggest two questions to guide our prayer about the humility Jesus calls us to…
1) From the poem by Hafiz, “How often does the phrase or thought “YOU OWE ME” creep into your heart and life? So much which is unlovely in this world starts from that sense of entitlement. Marriages suffer. Priests stop smelling like their sheep. Teenagers and college students become me centered. Pay attention to those moments when that thought finds a home in your mind and heart – and if you can, step outside into the (hot) sun for a moment. Look around at what happens with a love like that… and pray for the grace to be a servant.
2) Ask the question: Who have I un-invited from my world these days? Who does not find a home or welcome at my table? Perhaps it is the son in law who said hurtful words so many years ago. Maybe it is that nerdy kid who doesn’t quite fit in with any of the cliques in your high school. Maybe it is your spouse/significant other whom you sit with at table, but do not share anything of what is really going on in your life – the conversations are polite and sterile, but have no depth. Take a risk this week – invite them to the table of your life by sharing what is really going on. Be grounded (where the word humility comes from) by sharing who you are with your loved ones.
“Even after all these years the sun never says you owe me. See what happens with a love like that,” Hafiz tells us. (point to the cross) It would stretch its arms to embrace the entire world – saints and sinners alike. May we do the same.