Be Gentle in Carrying out your Business

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday of Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

On a flight from Johannesburg, a middle-aged, well-off white South African Lady had found herself sitting next to an African man. She called the cabin crew attendant over to complain about her seating. “What seems to be the problem Madam?” asked the attendant.

“Can’t you see?” she said. “You’ve sat me next to a kaffir. I can’t possibly sit next to this disgusting human. Find me another seat!” “Please calm down Madam.” the stewardess replied. “The flight is very full today, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go and check to see if we have any seats available in club or first class.” The woman cocks a snooty look at the outraged black man beside her (not to mention at many of the surrounding passengers also).

A few minutes later the stewardess returns with the good news, which she delivers to the lady, who cannot help but look at the people around her with a smug and self satisfied grin: “Madam, unfortunately, as I suspected, economy is full. I’ve spoken to the cabin services director, and club is also full. However, we do have one seat in first class”.

Before the lady had a chance to answer, the stewardess continued, “It is most extraordinary to make this kind of upgrade, however, and I had to get special permission from the captain. But, given the circumstances, the captain felt that it was outrageous that someone be forced to sit next to such an obnoxious person.” With which, she turned to the African man sitting next to her, and said: “So if you’d like to get your things, Sir, I have your seat ready for you in first class up at the front...” At which point, apparently the surrounding passengers stood and gave a standing ovation while the African guy walks up to first class in the front of the plane.
(Unfortunately I do not know the source of this story)

We are all shocked at the prejudice of that white South African lady, we feel sorry for the insulted man and we can identify with the other passengers who applauded the stewardess for moving the man up to first class. There are also distinctions between people in today’s Gospel parable, distinctions reflected in the places where they sit at table (Luke 14:7-14). Why would someone want to choose the place of honor or not want to sit next to a certain person? Because of a lack of humility. How do people react to someone who is lacking in humility? Not very positively. The passengers around the snooty lady in the plane and the cabin crew did not heed her or her request to move to a higher place at the table. Those who exalt themselves irritate others. Pride, boasting and snobbery fools no one but the snob and does not earn them the respect they wanted, but unfortunately the opposite. The proud and boastful do damage to themselves by exalting themselves. So what Jesus said in the Gospel today is true, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled.” (Luke 14:11)

Let’s probe this lack of humility a little more. Why would someone want to exalt himself/herself or, in the language of Jesus’ parable in the Gospel today, want the best place at table? One reason could be feeling inferior to others or lacking self-confidence. They try to compensate by exalting themselves. A proverb from somewhere in Asia is good; it says, “Don’t make your self so high, you are not so low.” In other words, “Don’t boast or be snobbish, you are not so inferior that you have to compensate by looking down on someone else.” Don’t make yourself so high, you are not so low.

The solution to the problem of feeling inferior to others or lacking in self-confidence is not in boasting or behaving like a snob or demanding the top place at the table. The solution is in recognizing that we receive our value from God and not from others’ opinions of us. Others’ opinions of us are a factor but do not determine our value. Our value is that we are all equal in dignity before God as his sons and daughters. Those who are proud or boastful or snobs do not realize that everything they have comes from God. None of us has anything that was not given to us by God therefore the only thing each of us can boast of is God. Think about it; we do not have anything that was not given to us by God so why be proud. It is all God’s.

So the problem of pride or lack of humility is not really the problem. The problem is one layer deeper, forgetting that since baptism we are all sons and daughters of God, forgetting that we, by ourselves, are not capable of saving ourselves and are saved only by the death of Jesus. We have all been purchased by Jesus for the Father at the greatest price. We all cost the greatest price; that price is the life and death of Jesus. That is the only thing we can boast of, and nothing else. We are worth the life of Jesus! And so also is the person next to you, behind you, in front of you. So we are all equally precious. In society unfortunately it does not always work like that but that is Jesus’ plan for his kingdom.

The first reading gives us a good antidote to the problem of pride:

“My son be gentle in carrying out your business,
and you will be better loved than a lavish giver.
The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly,
and then you will find favor with the Lord.” (Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 3:17-18)

Our model in humility is Jesus. He was a friend of sinners, so much so that a rhyme was made up about him:

“Behold a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax-collectors and sinners.” (Luke 7:34)

He washed the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper as a sign that his followers are to serve. Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. We, his followers, are called by him not to be served to serve.

“My son be gentle in carrying out your business,
and you will be better loved than a lavish giver.
The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly,
and then you will find favor with the Lord.” (Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 3:17-18)

“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2001

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Twenty-Second Sunday Year C

We do not need false appearances because we are citizens of heaven 2007

Related Homilies: What motivates you? God’s Love for you or your love of yourself? 2009

We are all equal in dignity before God

The journey from pride to humility

The greatest among you must be your servant

Book excerpt: Ruth Burrows on humility

stories about humility