Cycle (A) 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Zeph 2:3, 3:12-13; I Cor 1:26-31; Mt 5:1-12a

There was a touching incident in the career of Professor Stuart Blackie of the University of Edinburg. Many years ago, once he was listening to his students as they presented oral readings. When one young man rose to begin his recitation, he held his book in the left hand. The professor thundered, “Take your book in your right hand, and be seated!”

At this harsh rebuke, the student held up his right arm. He did not have the right hand! The other students shifted uneasily in their chairs. For a moment, the professor hesitated. Then he made his way to the student, put his arm around him, and said, “I never knew about it. Please, will you forgive me?” Professor Stuart Blackie was so humble that he was able to realize his mistake, accept it and apologize for it. Humility is a virtue rarely prized by our society today. Power, appearance, and finances are too often cantered around oneself. In contrast, humility minimizes self-focus. A humble person is neither arrogant nor selfish. But he regularly seeks to praise, honour, and serve others. Therefore, the lifestyle of a modest person is richly saturated in compassion, encouragement and integrity.

Today’s First Reading from the Book of Zephaniah  suggests that if the humble seek to obey the commands of the Lord, seeking righteousness and humility, on the Day of Judgment, they will be hidden from the wrath of the Lord because of their simplicity, humility and righteousness.

We have prided ourselves to live in a society of educated, sophisticated and modern people. However, it does not justify our rudeness, our unforgiving attitude, or our self-serving personality. Humility is a virtue that needed to be rediscovered in our lives. It needs to be cultivated if we desire to live peacefully and in accord with our community.

Humble people maintain a personal relationship with the God, submitting themselves to His Divine Will. This opposes the rich and the proud who do not have time for their Creator. Their fame, social life, wealth, pleasures take up their time. So, Jesus taught:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

The second reading also emphasizes 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. We can find many examples in nature for it. Poets have praised lavishly the song of birds. But it is strange that all the song birds are small creatures. We have never heard an eagle sing. Poets have never sung of the song of a turkey.  Children have never followed the song of an ostrich. But, poets have immortalized the song of a cuckoo. Lines have been written about the song of the nightingale. The canary has found its place in literature. The lurk has been a constant theme for poetry.  Many small and insignificant things in nature reflect beauty in its fullness. Sweetness of human existence comes from people who are small in their own estimation. When we humble ourselves God will make us His instruments. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."(James 4:6). Proverbs teaches “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom,” (Proverbs 11:2) and St Peter wrote to the early Christians" Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1Peter 5:2-6)A certain French Marquis was raised to his grand and exalted state from very humble surroundings. He had been a shepherd in his earlier days & so, in his palace, he had one room known as "The Shepherd's Room". In that room were reproductions of hills, valleys, running streams, rocks and sheepfolds. Here were the staff he had carried and the clothes he had worn as a lad when herding his sheep. When asked one day the meaning of this, he replied, "If ever my heart is tempted to haughtiness and pride, I go into that room and remind myself of what I once was."

A pompous, inflated Congressman once remarked to Horace Greeley: (Horace Greeley was a political reformer and newspaper editor) "I am a self-made man." To which Greeley replied, "Well, Sir, that relieves the Almighty of a great responsibility." When pride comes there is no place for God. A person becomes filled with himself, his achievements, his abilities and his ambitions. Pride not only withdraws the heart from God, but lifts it up against God. Humility helps us to realize our strengths and weaknesses.

There is an interesting fable in Aesop’s fables.

A Bull was bitten by a Mouse and, angered by the wound, he tried to capture mouse. But the mouse reached his hole in safety. Though the Bull dug into the walls with his horns, he got tired before he could rout out the Mouse, and crouching down, went to sleep outside the hole. The Mouse peeped out, crept furtively up his flank, and again biting him, retreated to his hole. The Bull rising up, and not knowing what to do, was sadly perplexed. At which the Mouse said, "The great do not always prevail. There are times when the small and lowly are the strongest and are able to prevail!"

Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the Kingdom of God. Yes, in the end, the humble and low shall be exalted while the mighty and the proud shall be brought down.

Humility was a virtue extolled by Saint Francis of Assisi, and this form of Franciscan piety led to the artistic development of the Madonna of humility first used by them for contemplation. The Virgin of humility sits on the ground, or upon a low cushion, unlike the Enthroned Madonna representations. This style of painting spread quickly through Italy and by 1375 examples began to appear in Spain, France and Germany and it became the most popular among the styles of the early Trecento artistic period.

When Jesus noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them a parable: "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honoured in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."(Luke 14:7-11)

Being humble is a powerful trait. Humble people see things for what they are. They do not judge, as they do not wish to be judged. The humility that Jesus demanded from his disciples was exemplified in his life, and it culminated at the last supper, when he washed the feet of His disciples.

Today, through the beatitudes Jesus invites us to cultivate the virtues of poverty and humility that they may help us to return to the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God. Hence, we should always remember the words of Jesus:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”