Sunday after Sunday we give Jesus a pass. We do not question what he says and what he does because we believe that he is the Son of God; he is our Savior; he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. But this time we cannot give him a pass.
In the Gospel of Luke (14:1, 7-14), a prominent Pharisee takes the risk of considering Jesus his equal and, so, he decides to invite him to dine at his home with a group of other prominent Pharisees. Any decent human being would be honored, grateful, appreciative and even, at least outwardly, deferential. But Jesus does what none of us would ever do: he lectures and embarrasses all the guests in front of the host and, then, he lectures and embarrasses the host in front of his honorable guests.
Even by our informality-leaning, loose western standards what Jesus did and said is simply unthinkable. Those who know a little bit about the Orient and how human interactions are played out on the axis of honor-dishonor would be at a total loss to explain this gospel passage. Why and how did Jesus get away with saying and doing what he said and did in this circumstance and in many others?
Well, historically, Jesus did not get away with this and with any other confrontation with the religious and political powers to be in Israel. They never forgave him anything. All those confrontations piled up and, eventually, his enemies nailed him to a cross.
Here is my attempt at explaining the why and how. Jesus knew human nature thoroughly and most accurately as God alone can. He knew that beyond the make believe world of honor, ranks, social status there were mere gestures and words sustained by smoke and mirrors. Humility was not only lacking but also nowhere to be found because the facts and actions were simply not there to back up what was displayed as real and commendable. That is the reason why in the Gospel there is not a single time recorded in which Jesus apologizes or admits having made a mistake.
However, we, beset as we are by scarce facts and actions to sustain and justify our rank, honor, recognition and possible fame, feel compelled to equate humility and meekness with due apologies, admissions of guilt, appreciation for due or undue respect and even servile deference toward those who wield power over us and can hurt us.
Unlike us, Jesus is truly meek and humble of heart because he alone can back up his words and his conduct with facts sprung from unquestionable and pure humility; humility simply, patently, genuinely grounded in truth.
Actually he is Truth itself.
The second chapter of the Letter to the Philippians describes in details Jesus’ true humility which is so unquestionable that it never needs to resort to apologies or expose him to embarrassing situations.
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
This passage makes us realize how unlike Christ we truly are and how urgently we need to hurry and learn from his meekness and humility.
What would our reaction be if we had invited Jesus to dine at our home with a group of carefully selected honorable guests and he acted the way described in the passage of this Gospel? What would our reaction be if he had lectured us as he did those unfortunate guests and the host himself?
Do you see? We resent being lectured by anyone of our peers unless we believe that the one lecturing us is one of God’s anointed ministers and speaks in the name of Jesus, the Truth. We resent being lectured by anyone else because we are painfully aware that we have a lot to hide beyond the façade of our status, rank, level of education, authority, influence and anything else that improves the image of ourselves in the eyes of others. We do not want anybody to remind us of our inadequacies, of our lack of genuineness and, most definitely, we do not want anyone equally beset by weaknesses and flaws to lecture us on what to do and how to do it.
Today, in his unique way, Jesus teaches us that what can reduce our fear of embarrassing exposure is drawing near to him, the Truth and asking his Holy Spirit to shed light on the real motivations behind what we think, say and do.
Hence, wising up at long last, we decide, first, to let the God of infinite perfection humble us before the humiliation comes from people who are as inadequate and as flawed as we are.
Then, we heed Jesus’ suggestion on how to be exalted by God.
But before we can expect to be exalted by God we should be smart enough to imitate Jesus in his factual humility.
In the same chapter of the Letter to the Philippians we learn from him to place others ahead of ourselves and their well-being before our own self-interest. We choose to value those who cannot enhance our status in any measurable way or repay us with deference and honors; we learn to kneel before those who rank below us (the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind) and “wash their feet” just as Jesus did (Jn 14:14) in the course of the Last Supper: If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.
If we do so truthfully, sincerely, lovingly, joyfully we would reduce significantly the times in which we would need to apologize or be embarrassed.
And this would also be the best guarantee and safeguard against being embarrassed by the Lord when we will stand before him and all the smoke and mirrors on which we relied in the course of our earthly life will not help us at all.