WHAT DO WE SEEK: HUMILITY OR PRIDE?
HOMILY FOR FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A. Readings: Zephaniah 2:3;3:12-13; Psalm 146; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 and Matthew 5:1-12.
Sometimes, I recommend to people who feel on top of the world to occasionally have a visit to three important places, which are hospitals: in order to appreciate their health and value for life; the prison: to aid them appreciate and value freedom; and the cemetery: to serve as a reminder of the emptiness or nothingness of life, and bring to our consciousness the spirit of humility, which we are called to reflect on in today’s liturgy.
Our first reading is from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah, a Book quite short, with three chapters in length. While chapter one tells us of the terrible judgment Yahweh was about to inflict on Judah (1:1-13) and the great day of the Lord (1:14-18), the prophet in today’s periscope urges the people of Judah to “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his command; seek righteousness, seek humility…” (2:3). How can they seek the Lord? What are the necessary steps? For one thing, they could consult their Scriptures to see what God could call them to do, and then could begin to obey. For another thing, they could seek the Lord in prayer. They could engage in worship, both corporate and individual. However, the most important thing would be the state of their hearts. If their hearts were truly set on seeking the Lord, they could be sure that the Lord will make it possible for them to find him.
The prophet further urges the people of Judah to seek righteousness and humility. The Lord desires a humble spirit (Ps. 51:17 Micah 6:8). He delivers those who are humble and humbles those who are proud (1 Sam 2:7; 2 Sam 22:28). The prophet gave them the possibility of averting the Lord’s anger and judgment if they will seek his righteousness and humility. Seeking the Lord might be the key to their salvation because the people of Judah have been proud and their pride have created a barrier separating them from the Lord. It was on this note the prophet said, “For I will leave in the midst of you and a people humble and lowly” (3:12) and the antecedent of this verse tells us that “The Lord will take away the proudly exulted ones” (3:11) and will leave in their midst, the humble who take refuge in the name of the Lord.
In line with the prophet Zephaniah to seek righteousness and humility, St. Paul in the second reading reminds the Christians In Corinth of their humble origin and status as ordinary people and how God has called them, “Not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (v.26). God did not call them because they were wise and powerful or of noble birth. No! He called them to join themselves to him, so that they can become wise, powerful, and noble by virtue of their relationship to him. Paul reminded them that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no flesh can boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27-30). We as humans do not like pompous people who hold a high opinion of themselves and low opinion of everyone else. God seems to share this point of view. God wants us to be grounded in him so that we can walk in confidence, not in our own ability, but in his power and our relationship with him.
If all of the things mentioned in verse 30 are works of Christ rather than our personal achievements, why would we boast? “Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness, sanctification and redemption” are products of Christ work, not ours. We can only receive them as gifts from God. If that is the case, where is our ground for boasting? We can only boast that God has been good to us, not that we have anything in our hands that can commend us to God.
Furthermore, the gospel presents the Sermon of Christ on the Mount, otherwise known as the Beatitudes, which means “The Blessings” but can also be understood as giving the believer his “BE – ATTITUDES” – the attitudes that should “be” In us. It is the attitudes expected of Christians. The Beatitudes give a portrait of Christ. He is poor in spirit, in that he depends on God for everything; he is gentle and humble of heart; he mourns because God’s will is not being done on earth as in heaven; he hungers and thirst for what is right, for what God wants, and is prepared to suffer to bring that about; he is merciful to the broken and the sinner; he has a purity of intention, wanting only what God wants; he works to make peace between God and humanity and among human beings.
In making this portrait of himself known to us, he simultaneously tells us what is expected of us his followers. The beatitudes have now become our portrait that we need fix ourselves in it. We cannot become persons of the beatitudes on our own, we need to depend solely on God and to work with him. We cannot do this if we are proud. Pride exists in all of us but manifests in different ways. For some, it is overconfidence in talents or abilities, for others it could be the spirit of superiority. It causes us to assess our lives by the standard of our accomplishments rather than our God given identity. It is a deadly sin that can easily go undetected in our lives. When pride flourishes, every victory, whether big or small is attributed to our greatness. Rather than giving praise to God for the blessings, we seem to take the glory.
Hence, as the prophet Zephaniah gave the attitude expected of the people of Judah saying, “They shall do no wrong and utter no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue” (Zeph. 3:13). Christ similarly gives the attitude expected of his followers to ‘BE-ATTITUDES.’ The attitude of humility, not pride.
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ