Sir. 3:17-20, 28-9; Heb. 12:18-9, 22-24; Lk. 14:1, 7-14
Once Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was travelling to a village for one of his regular speeches. At his station a young officer got down from the train with a suitcase.
The young officer shouted for a coolie. Vidyasagar went to him and said, "Why do you need a coolie to carry this small suitcase? Can’t you carry it yourself and save the money?"
The young officer replied, "It is not in keeping with my dignity to carry my suitcase. I am an educated person."
Vidyasagar asked him, “If you cannot carry your bag, shall I carry it for you." He carried the officer’s suitcase and went behind the officer. On their way the young officer told the porter that he had come there to listen to the speech of a great man. When they reached the destination the young man then offered money to his ‘porter’. Vidyasagar told him, "To serve you is my reward” and went away.
The young officer then proceeded to the venue of the meeting. He was stunned to see people welcoming the ‘porter’ who carried his suitcase with garlands. He realised that the man who had offered to carry his suitcase at the station was none other than the respected lecturer of that evening, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar exemplifies the humility that today’s readings describe. The First Reading from the Book of Sirach teaches us that the greater we are, the more we must humble ourselves, so we will find favour in the sight of the Lord. [Sir. 3:17-18] When Jesus taught His disciples the meaning of true greatness, He called a child and said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greater in the Kingdom of Heaven." [Mt. 18:2-4]
All the great men praised the virtue of humility. “Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues,” taught Confucius. Benjamin Franklin was convinced that “Humility makes great men twice honourable.” Jesus taught his disciples to be humble like children.
A child respects everything and wonders at the marvels around him. When others compete with one another to be first, a child stands apart and wonders at everything. He has nothing of his own. Everything he has is a gift from others and he takes pride in the gifts. Great men were able to see the gifts of God, and they always remained grateful to him. This attitude made them humble. “God descends to the humble as waters flow down the hills into the valleys,” says St. Tikhon. God fills the humble with his blessings. When we realize it we will be able to say like Rabindranath Tagore:
vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.
This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales,
and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in
joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still thou poorest, and still there is room to fill.”
Humility can be practiced by doing our daily duties with dedication and commitment. St Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interest of others.” We work very hard. But often what we see is our interest. We desire to do great things, and ignore the simple duties entrusted to us. During the American Civil war, President Lincoln had a strapping athletic young man as his secretary. He was not happy about his work. He wanted to get out where the action was on the battlefield. He wanted to go and do great things for his country. He was quite willing to die if necessary. So he kept on complaining about the work he was doing, when he could be in uniform confronting the enemy. After hearing the usual complaint one day, Lincoln said in his philosophical way, “Young man as I see it, you are quite willing to die for your country, but you are not willing to live for it.”
Humility makes us instruments in the hands of God. It makes possible a relationship with God. “There is no room for God in him who is full of himself, “says Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher. God can work through us only when we offer a chance by keeping our pride aside. The psalmist declares,
“Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble:
thou wilt prepare their heart,
thou wilt cause thine ear to hear. (Psalm 10:17)
Humility brings peace to our life. Humility does not desire, therefore there is no discontent. Humility does not boast, hence there is no depression. Humility does not dream, hence there is no disappointment. Humility does not know competition, so there no discouragement. Humility does not make any comparison, and there is no regret. Following the example of Jesus we should be able to conduct ourselves in a humble manner. Then, we will be able to appreciate the blessings that we receive from God. Let us remember the admonition of Jesus, “He who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”