In the Gospel Reading, Jesus censures people who take the seats of honor at a feast. Take the least honorable places, he tells them, and then the host can invite you to a more honorable place.
Jesus is rebuking the pride of those people who go for the honorable seats. But what is the solution to the problem of pride? If you race your friends to the least honorable seat because the reward for doing so is that you get one of the best seats, isn’t this pride too?
So what is true humility?
Well, think about pride.
There is a childish kind of pride, of course, where you brag about your accomplishments while everybody else tries to be polite enough not to roll their eyes while you are talking.
And then there is also the grown-up version of that childish pride. A multi-millionaire who explains that he is a self-made man has this kind of pride. He has failed to notice all the gifts he has been given that have helped him get where he is. He thinks he himself is responsible for the good he has.
A more complicated kind of pride can be found in a person who knows that all his good comes from the grace of God. But he is sure that God has given such grace to him and not to his neighbors, because God knew that he, unlike his stupid worldly neighbors, would make good use of God’s gifts.
Finally, the worst and most sophisticated kind of pride is found in the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other men, especially not like that sinner, the publican. The Pharisee knew that every good in him was a gift from God. But he was glad that he had God’s gifts and that the publican didn’t. The Pharisee liked looking down on the publican.
Here is what humility is, then. It is recognizing that every good in yourself is a gift from God and is meant to be given back to the Lord by being shared with others.
You can’t get true humility by racing for the least honorable seat. If the least honorable seat is, in the Lord’s view, the best place to be seated, then true humility requires your sharing it with others in gratitude to the Lord who gave it.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University