Today’s Gospel and first reading from Sirach have an obvious theme – humility. Patricia Sanchez speaks about that theme of humility in her reflection in Celebration. Below are some excerpts from her reflection.
“Humility” is derived from the Latin word humus or earth; the humble person has his or her feet on the ground. Level-headed and truthful, those with humility are not the center of their own universe. Rather they are centered on God and on others.
In his book Everyday Greatness, Stephen Covey included a chapter on humility in which he quoted Groucho Marx. Marx told the story of a nurse so taken with her own beauty that each time she took a man’s pulse, she subtracted 10 points to compensate for what her looks did to his heartbeat. Covey also quoted Sam Walton (the founder of Wal-Mart), who said, “It is unhealthy to marinate in your own press clippings.” In a like manner, cartoonist Frank Tyger advised, “Swallow your pride. It’s non-fattening.”
After his epic saga Roots was published in 1976, Alex Haley said that in his office he had a picture of a turtle sitting on a fencepost. When he looked at it, Haley remembered a lesson taught to him by his friend John Gaines: “If you see a turtle on top of a fencepost, you know he had some help.” Said Haley, “Anytime I start thinking, ‘Wow, isn’t this marvelous what I’ve done!’ I look at that picture and remember how this turtle – me – got up to that post.”
Humorous stories like these convey the truth about the necessity of humility. In the quest to convey that same truth, the author of Sirach chose a sapiential genre, while Jesus opted for parables.
Sirach was written in Hebrew in 180 B.C.E. by Jesus ben Sira…A keen observer of the human condition, ben Sira wrote in order to help his contemporaries maintain their faith and traditions in ever-changing times. In a world not unlike our own, when many were eager to make a name for themselves and leave their mark in the annals of history, the great sage advised otherwise: “Conduct your affairs with humility…humble yourself the more, the greater you are.”
Jesus instructs his disciples along the same lines…Instead of jockeying for seats of honor at a banquet, the followers of Jesus are to take the lowest place and leave the giving of honor to the discretion of the host.
If the wisdom of Jesus and ben Sira were allowed to infuse the world of politics, how might that change things? Would there be more truth and fewer unkept promises? Would there be less mudslinging? Would debates be a time for posturing or setting forth principles?
How might such wisdom affect the economics of a nation? Would the trickle-down theory prevail, or would decisions be based on preferential option for the poor? How would a healthy dose of humility affect the legal system? The workplace? Our institutions of learning?
More to the point, how might society be impacted if the followers of Jesus allowed humility to uproot our arrogance, anger, greed and aggression? With our feet on the ground and our eyes fixed on Jesus, we are challenged to be truly who we are at all times, in all places, with everyone we meet.
Authentic humility can be an elusive quality. Once you think you have it, you don’t. Remember the turtle on the fencepost.