The Primacy of Humble Love

Lectio Divina: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

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Roman Rite

Sir 3, 19-21.30-31; Ps 68; Heb12, 18-19.22-24; Lk 14, 1.7-14

Ambrosian Rite

2Mac 6, 1-2.18-28; Ps 140; 2 Cor 4.17 to 5.10; Mt f 18.1 to 10

Sunday before the Martyrdom of St. John the Precursor

Introduction

The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel seem an etiquette manual or an advice on how to behave when invited to a banquet to avoid looking bad. Jesus’ intention is not to give a rule for good behavior in society. The words of the Redeemer illustrate the Christian logic, to which must convert those who have had the experience of meeting Him.

During lunch Jesus gave two important teachings. The first, concerning humility, was addressed to the guests seeking the place of honor. The second, concerning gratuitousness, was directed to the host, the lord of the house, to invite him to a disinterested love. These two teachings on humility and generosity push us to understand that the best place to be is near Christ.

1) Humility and Christian logic.

When a person lives according to pagan logic, he or she follows the three lusts described by St. John in his first letter. There are three types of uncontrolled desire or lust: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and pretentious life (see 1 Jn 2:16). The things of the world, the structure and the organization of the life of the cosmos away from God, are based on these three lusts which could also indicate the desire to have, the desire for power and the desire to appear.

First, when one person lives according to Christian logic, the world is organized according to the law of love and practiced according to Christian logic. In this logic (=intelligent) Christian life, a person is great (or rather: holy) not for what he or she has, but for what he or she gives. Second, he or she does not crave for the power that dominates, but strongly desires the power that serves humbly. The true human fulfillment is not in the power to dominate, but in the power to serve. Third, in order to reinforce the primacy of love, in today’s Gospel Jesus says that the important thing is not appearance, but humility. For this reason, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote: “Listen brother, God is very high. If you go up, he goes higher; but if you go down, He comes to you. “The crucified Jesus is the height of God, because the height of the Cross is the height of the love of God, the height of renunciation of oneself and dedication to others. This is the divine place, therefore let’s pray the Lord to let us understand this more and more, and humbly accept this mystery of exaltation and humiliation.

Humility is the virtue that enables us to understand the place that Love has chosen for us and to welcome the love that comes to live with us. At the lunch of life, where we are invited, the Lord wants everyone to discover his or her own place. What matters is not to be forward or in the back, but the very place that God has prepared for us and in which our happiness and our fulfillment are. This place, proposed by God and accepted by us, has the name of our vocation.

2) Humility and the banquet.

In the situation described in today’s Gospel, as in other social occasions, the banquet is an image of life. The Christian banquet of life, the banquet of the Kingdom, is the foundation of the relation between us and God.

In the Bible the banquet foreshadows the Kingdom of God.  Also Jesus, who puts himself always in continuity with the revelation of Old Testament, uses a lot this symbolism, both in his speeches and participating to banquets, an anticipatory “sign” of the Eucharistic table and of the ultimately future communion with God. Chapter 14th of St. Luke’s Gospel is divided into two scenes: first, the invitation, on the holy day of Saturday, to dinner at the home of one of the leading Pharisees (Lk 14: 1-6). Then the teaching using two small parables on how to choose the seats at the table and the criteria for making the invitation (Lk 14: 7-14). Finally, the parable of the great banquet (Lk 14.15 to 16) that still concerns the issue of the guests: who will participate in the banquet of the kingdom? This banquet is already prepared in the relationship with a Jesus who convenes around him the people in the Church – communion of the saved ones.

We, the members of this Community of the Redeemed, are called to “live together” with Christ, nourishing ourselves of His Eucharistic Body. The “etiquette” to follow is that of humility. Practicing this virtue does not mean saying that we are nothing and that are not worth anything. A humble person gives the best of himself, does as much as possible and opens his or her heart as much as he or she can. Humility towards the others is understanding, acceptance and service. Humility towards God is adoration, thanksgiving, prayer and love.

For to be and to grow in humility it is necessary to love.

This is what Jesus did. The merciful love had him come down from heaven. The merciful and free love has pushed him on the roads of Palestine. This selfless charity led him to look for the sick, the sinners and those who suffer. This charity, that is the moving gift of self, took him, without delay, to his destination, the Calvary, where “he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2, 8). “Humility has been the outward form of his divine love” (Divo Barsotti).

Let us contemplate the humility of Christ as the highest expression of love. His humility is the revelation of God that becomes fully a man, incarnating for our salvation. He chooses the last place, the Cross, to save us. It becomes “nothing” so that the human being could be everything. It becomes Eucharistic food for the banquet of heaven. In this banquet, the Mass, He is present under the appearances of bread and wine to give himself to be eaten. The Mass finds its fulfillment in the Eucharistic communion, in which he gives himself totally to us to the point of disappear. He is everything for us and in us, for our salvation.

If it is amazing to contemplate the humility of the Son of God when He says: “I came not to do my own will, but the will of the One who sent me”. It amazes even more to hear from the humble Creator to a humble creature: “You are my mother.”

This is the God who has revealed Himself to us: a love that empties himself to give himself because love is a gift.

St. Francis saw God as humility. For the Saint of Assisi God he is humility. God is revealed to us through creation, but his most perfect revelation is Jesus Christ. Christ, for St. Francis, is humility: the humility of Christ in his birth, in his passion and in the Eucharist.

This great saint goes even further and “dare” to say that humility is the revelation of love. “God is love, and love can only be humility that is the love that lives forthe other, in relation with the other” (Divo Barsotti).

The humble Son of God became incarnate to be the Bridegroom who gives everything to the bride. This aspect of nuptial relation of the Church Bride of Christ, humble and poor, is stressed in a very significant way by the Virgins consecrated in the world, where they bring the light of Christ with the lamp of the heart. In this regard, in a letter which is listed as number XXIII and that I propose as “patristic” reading, Saint Catherine of Siena wrote to his niece Nanna Benincasa:

“If you want to be the bride of Christ, you’d better have the lamp, and the oil, and the light. Do you know what this means, my daughter? For the lamp it means our heart: because the heart has to be as the lamp. You see that the lamp is wide above, and narrow under; and so is the heart to signify that we must always keep large the top, that is, for holy thoughts, and holy imaginations, and continual prayer; always having in mind the benefices of God, and especially the benefit of the blood, for which we are bought again. The blessed Christ, my daughter, do not buy us back with gold nor silver nor pearls or other precious stones; likewise, he bought us back with his precious blood. Such benefit must not be forgotten, but always taken before in his eyes, with a holy and sweet thank you, seeing how much God loves us inestimably:  He did not bother to give his only begotten Son for the shameful death of the cross to give us the life of grace. I said that a lamp is narrow below: and so must be our hearts to signify that the heart has to be narrow for the earthly things, namely not to desire them nor to love them inordinately, nor to ask more than what God wants to give us; but always thank him, seeing how sweetly He provides us for us so that we lack nothing. In this way our hearts will truly be a lamp. But think, my daughter, that this would not be enough if it were not oil inside. The oil is that sweet little virtue of profound humility: because it is good for the bride of Christ to be humble and meek and patient; and the more she will be humble the more she will be patient, and the more she will be patient, the more she will be humble. But we will not reach this virtue of humility without true knowledge of ourselves, namely knowing our misery and weakness and that we alone cannot do any act of virtue, nor take away a battle or a pain: because, if we have bodily infirmity, or a pain or a mental battle, we cannot lift or remove it; if we could, we immediately would remove it. So it is good for us that we are nothing, nothing but opprobrium, misery, stench, frailties and sins for which we must always remain low and humble. However to remain only in this self-knowledge, it would not be good; the soul would become  tedious and confuse; and confusion would bring to despair: the devil would like nothing more for us than to be in confusion, to make us then come to despair. It is convenient therefore to stand in the knowledge of God’s goodness, seeing that he has created us in his image and likeness, and recreated us in grace in the blood of his only begotten Son, sweet Word Incarnate; and as always the goodness of God works in us. But see, only to stay in this God-knowledge would not be good because the soul would come into presumption and pride. It is convenient therefore that one is mixed together with the other, that is, standing in the holy-knowledge of God’s goodness and in the knowledge of ourselves: and so we will be humble, patient and gentle; and in this way we shall have the oil in the lamp.

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