What goes up must come down

Reflection on the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 27, 2019

What goes up must come down
Rex Lago Paras

“…for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) These are Jesus’ parting words in our gospel reading, The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Lk 18:9-14). By presenting us with the contrasting images of the Pharisee, who prayed boasting his supposed righteousness, and the tax collector, who was so remorseful for his sins that he felt unworthy to “even raise his eyes to heaven” (Lk 18:13), Jesus teaches us a very important lesson on humility. This teaching is not entirely new. In the Old Testament, we are admonished to “conduct [our] affairs with humility” (Sirach 3:17) because “[h]umble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find mercy in the sight of God.” (Sir 3:18)

To underscore the need to be humble, Jesus addressed today’s parable “to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” (Lk 18:9) Jesus had a specific audience in mind. And that audience includes us in the here and the now because oftentimes, we ourselves fall into the trap of pride.

While Jesus used a parable to illustrate the meaning of humility, his life is actually the best example of such a virtue. From conception to death, Jesus is the epitome of humility. He is God, but ever obedient to the will of the Father, he was conceived and born as a human. He became “the carpenter’s son[.]” (Matthew 13:55) When it was time for him to begin his public ministry, he went to John the Baptist to be baptized. John, knowing full well that Jesus is the Messiah that he had been prophesying about, “tried to prevent [Jesus], saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’” (Mt 3:14) Jesus replied, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15) And so, John “baptized the very author of Baptism.” (Preface of Saint John the Baptist)

The humble life of Jesus may be summarized in this manner: “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

Our God made the greatest act of humility. He became one of us in order to save us. Why is it difficult to follow in his footsteps?

There is no denying that that this world attaches great value to achievements. To a certain extent, our accomplishments—in school, the workplace or the community—define who we are. It is not out of the ordinary when we are identified as Ms. A, the doctor, Mr. B, the lawyer, or by associating us with what we have achieved. There is nothing wrong with being successful or accomplished. The Pharisee in the parable claimed that he was not greedy, dishonest or adulterous. Those were commendable qualities, but Jesus let out an indictment against him anyway. Jesus was critical of him not because he was living an upright life, but because his uprightness got the better of him, because of his ‘holier than thou’ attitude.

The smell of success or of knowing that one is right can be intoxicating, as it did the Pharisee who was driven to think that he was better than the tax collector. This is the reminder that we draw from today’s gospel reading. We are cautioned from thinking highly of ourselves, from being proud. In spite of our achievements, we should remain grounded. We should humble ourselves for “[t]he result of humility and fear of the Lord is riches, honor and life.” (Proverbs 22:4)

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