"I am the Captain of the Pinafore and a right good captain too. I'm very. Very good and be it understood I command a right good crew." So begins the opening solo in Gilbert & Sullivan's operetta HMS Pinafore. Would you consider this captain a humble man? Hardly. We know from experience that the temptation of people with power is for them to exercise their power in order to gain more power. They rarely give it up freely. It is often only through some kind of force that it is taken away from them.
The words of today's First Reading from Sirach (earlier called Ecclesiasticus) tell us what it means to be truly human and to be counted among God's people. The phrases found in this book are mostly common-sense sayings, the relating of human experience and teaching of natural law. Among them is that humility (calmness, mildness, gentleness) belongs to a genuine sense of oneself.
In contrast, we hear that more and more parents are wishing for "designer" children, indicating a radical pride : certainly not any humility : in attempting to control the laws of nature. These parents have to come to know the limits of their abilities. We know in a humbling manner from Hurricane Katrina that we do not always have power over the world in which we live. The mightiest efforts of scientific and engineering endeavor stand helpless in the face of the laws of nature. Manmade laws can be changed in the easiest of ways. But in all humility we have to adapt to and live with the possibility of failure in confronting the unchangeable laws of nature.
Benjamin Barber, an author analyzing today's advertising writes of this broad field sometimes pompously helping to manufacture needs along with goods. Those of us who walk, jog, bike, lift weights, play sports and do other activities to keep our bodies healthy, can ask why people who suffer sleeplessness or "restless leg syndrome" cannot with a humble appreciation of the laws of nature get on with life without such a dependence upon the pharmaceutical industry.
The story is told that Moses and Jesus were playing golf with another twosome they had just met on the first tee. At the #5 tee box overlooking a water hazard extending to the green, Moses and the other two golfers reached the green using their #3 irons. Jesus hit a #5 iron and the ball landed in the water a full 20 yards short of the green. The other three golfers walked around the hazard to the green, while Jesus started walking across the water to look for his ball. One of the other golfers asked Moses, "Who does he think he is, Jesus Christ?" Moses answered, "He IS Jesus Christ, but he thinks He's Tiger Woods!" Would we ascribe any negative characteristics of human nature to Jesus? Does the poor choice of a golf club indicate a failure of humility in him? We'll never know. Golfers are often silent about their poor choices.
In the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer refers to Moses receiving God's Commandments on Mt. Sinai, and giving them to the people amid their rebellious words and actions. Later the writer links Jesus with His forerunner Abel, who was killed by his brother Cain. Cain's answer to God's question ("Where is your brother?) reeked with a lack of humility: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Abel himself has no words in Scripture as the writer points out; but his spilled blood spoke volumes. Abel was the precursor of Jesus who offered a perfect sacrifice of blood and life in the Eucharist.
Many teachings of Jesus presented to us in the Gospels in scenes involving a banquet. The first teaching in today's Gospel seems to present shrewd and calculated behavior as a possibility for the reader and/or listener; but the heart of the lesson is that God's kingdom is not for the rich and powerful. It is for the humble ones, the poor ones, the insignificant ones.
The second teaching appears to point to enlightened self-interest in taking care of our future. But Jesus is presenting us with the challenge to examine our attitudes so we will in all humility leave the rewards for our good deeds to the mercy and justice of God. AMEN!