Monday, August 30, 2010

I don't take the time to prepare myself beforehand with the Sunday readings. Usually I'm familiar enough with the context to understand alright.

This week's first reading and the Gospel are clearly in the wisdom tradition but my skeptical side always ponders just how wise the advice really is.

Take Sirach 3:18 -
Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find favor with God.
If I must ask myself whether I'm great then I'm obviously not and, so, am off the hook!

Certainly the next verse resonates with me, loud and clear -
What is too sublime for you, seek not,
into things beyond your strength search not.
But the next verse appears to be some sort of built in protection against criticism -
The mind of a sage appreciates proverbs,
I don't always appreciate proverbs, therefore I'm not a sage? Who'd be happy with that assessment? Better to pretend to appreciate proverbs?

The Gospel reading applies Sirach's advice in a real-life setting, dinner with one of the leading Pharisees. Kenny recognized the Scripture from the handful of parables covered in VBS this summer. Good for him.
Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
On the other hand, if you're like me and habitually arrive late (and last), just take whatever seat is available, if any.

But is the proper motivation for humbling oneself the hope of promotion? I mean, come on. Does this passage actually encourage ulterior motives? And so, if I reject the ethic of this passage - refuse to affix hope of promotion on the virtue of debasing myself in social settings, am I not living according to biblical teaching?

I prefer Sirach whose focus is on finding favor with God because there's no mention of pleasing God in the passage from Luke until, perhaps, the final verse -
Blessed indeed will you be ... For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
The part about feeding people who can't repay you reminded me of the scene from the original Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) after the desperate farmer tries to shoot Deeds and Deeds gives him a meal.

The second reading gives a compelling contrast between Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion which may be only vaguely related to (Christian) wisdom literature, in the idea that there are "two paths" (Deut. 30:19; Prov. 9). I was reminded that Pilgrim's Progress makes use of those symbols, Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion, for law and grace.1

1 Pilgrim's Progress - Wiki


Matt said...

"Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find favor with God."

When I read that it makes me think of a seemingly "great" man like a well known statesman, king, or philanthropist, not some kind of moral goodness.

The Challoner version, is at verse 3:20, and has a cross reference to Phillipians 2:3 which discusses vain glory.

At any rate, humbling yourself in the sight of the Lord is always good advice I think! :-)

Moonshadow said...

I agree, a person who would know their position or standing in the community. Like I said, if you have to ask whether you're great, then the answer's probably no.

Happy birthday, btw. I don't know what to think about Marty Haugen in Latin ... I still like the tune even if the original lyrics are soggy.

kkollwitz said...

People in the Bible are most endearing and exemplary when they humble themselves in repentance.

evanscove said...

Apparently humility is one of the greatest virtues. I once heard a Catholic priest say, "Pride is a lie." True. There really is not cause for us to be proud of ourselves, as everything we have is from God. Humility and respect for others tend to get you farther, and I find that a healthy level of self-respect (but not pride) will develop in conjunction with them.
I realize that we tend to emphasize giving for giving's sake--"a good deed is its own reward." But strictly speaking, that's not what the Bible teaches. Rather, we are promised reward from God for virtuous living, though we may not receive any recompense in this life.


Moonshadow said...

Kkollwitz, name some examples, please. Are the Ninevites endearing? They were certainly exemplary penitents.

Others, more endearing - the Patriarch Jacob, Kings David and Hezekiah, St. Peter - mostly the Bible's a story of righteous people interceding for the unrighteous - there's humility in that - up until the ultimate Righteous Man, Jesus.

I get the biggest charge from biblical characters who are brave and confident. Those who "step out in faith," I suppose and are blessed with success.

Moonshadow said...

Evan, I agree with that Merton quote on Colleen's blog.

But Lewis' chapter on pride took me to school way back. He distinguishes between taking pleasure in praise of a job well done and unbridled pride. He concludes the chapter with these words of caution:

"If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. ... nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed."

Empirical evidence in support of that statement right here. :-)

kkollwitz said...

I was especially thinking about David acknowledging his adultery to Nathan, and Peter's post-Resurrection encounter with Jesus.

kkollwitz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Moonshadow said...

And I was thinking of Peter when he was first introduced to Christ. Lk. 5:8

Nicola said...

Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.

To me this verse emphasizes the first verse you mentioned.

Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find favor with God.

Humbling ourselves at the table or "anywhere" should become natural. This dinner seating example shows in human terms what Sirach 3:18 is telling us. The host at the dinner can also be an allusion to "the host" at the Eucharist.

Moonshadow said...

I'm alright with taking the last seat, Nicola, but why should my motivation be hopes of being asked to move up?

The host/Host connection you make is a false cognate as the words have different origins: hospes (L., guest) and hostia (L., victim).

Matt said...

I view this seat at the table issue this way:

When we go to confession, it is acceptable to go with imperfect contrition - when we are sorry for our sins due to fear of hell. Our sins are forgiven, but it is better for us to achieve perfect contrition - where we are sorry for the love of God.

In the same way, our motivation is better if we were to give our seat out of true humility. But it is acceptable to give it up for the lesser motivation in hopes of a reward.

The idea here, with the seats, might be that by acting the part of a saint for a just reward will gradually mold our hearts so that we will be more disposed to true humility.

Just my own personal thoughts on the matter. I once heard someone say that if you want to be a saint, act like one.

Moonshadow said...

Matt, I can't ever recall having a fear of hell or a hope for reward. I'm not saying I'm correct in that. It's just an instance where Jesus' words don't sit right with me.

I should have said that I'm just happy to have been invited!

if you want to be a saint, act like one.

Again, Lewis writes to that effect:

What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? ... Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.

But God puts the desire in our heart.