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Dianne BergantAugust 16, 2004

If you want to make it in the world today, you have to advertise. If you have a product to sell or a service to offer, you must make it known—and you must brag about it. “We have what no one else has.” “Ours is bigger and better and lasts longer.” “We can do what no one else can do.” “We are more reliable.” Face it: a humble attitude will probably not make you Number One. Does this mean that we should not advertise, that we should not extol the benefits of what we might have to offer? No, it simply means that it is very difficult to be humble in such circumstances.

The parable that Jesus tells condemns not excellence but arrogance. It demonstrates how people who assume places of honor risk having to relinquish them in favor of someone more distinguished. Instead of proudly glorying in their own importance, they are shamed. Among the followers of the one who in his humanity emptied himself of the privileges of divinity, there is no place for an “I am better than you” attitude. We may indeed have an abundance of material possessions or a fine education or exceptional talent. Still, these do not mean that we are superior to others. Those who are so fortunate would do well to heed the admonition of Sirach: “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are.”

There is another way in which we try to impress others with our importance; it is by doing the right things and associating with important people. We want to be known as having read the right books, as frequenting the right places, as being invited to the right parties. And equally significant is the fact that influential people come to our parties. We deceive ourselves when we think that any of this makes us important. Though Jesus does not say anything about reading books or visiting places, what he says about parties clearly addresses this matter: “Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Invite those whose presence cannot enhance your prestige, those who cannot repay you in kind.

So much of our time and energy is wasted in trying to convince others of our importance. Besides, most of us will not be featured in the society pages regardless of what we do. Jesus points to what is really of value, and that is caring for those in need of our help. And isn’t this what so many of us do anyway? We care for family members and friends and neighbors; we offer our time and whatever resources we can to soup kitchens and clothing drives; we join walks and runs in support of worthy causes. We are just ordinary people attentive to others in ordinary ways that are really extraordinary. In such situations, we do not claim places of honor; we do not insist on special recognition. Rather, we genuinely conduct our affairs in humility.

 

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