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Bible Reflections View Comments

Give God the Glory
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 1, 2013
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The buzz was almost immediate: “He lives in an apartment in Buenos Aires.... He cooks his own meals.... He takes the bus to work.” As soon as Pope Francis was elected, details about his life as Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina were in the news and on social media websites. In the days and weeks following the election, one act after another pointed to the pope’s humility. He models a simple way of life and encourages others in the church to do the same.

Today’s Gospel is one of Jesus’ most extended comments on the virtue of humility. The society of Jesus’ day depended a great deal on status and honor. People were in relationship to one another according to strict rules of class, occupation, and conduct. This was far more than a question of the arranged seating we might experience at a formal dinner.

Luke frames the parable Jesus tells by setting the scene for us. He tells us Jesus is at the home of one of the leading Pharisees and “the people there were observing him carefully.” Jesus knows this and turns their observations back on them. He chides them for seeking positions of honor, suggesting that they instead will be shamed by someone more important than they perceive themselves to be.

Jesus is talking to the climbers, the pushy ones, the people who are already abusing the little power they have in a bid to get even more status, more power. They’re the ones who don’t mind stepping over other people to get ahead.

Jesus teaches again and again that the last will be first, not as a way to encourage them to push forward and get ahead of the rest, but as a reassurance that it’s not the pushy people who get their way in the end, even though it might seem to be the case in the short term.

In an ironic twist, stories such as this one at times have been used by those in power to keep people lower down on the ladder in their place. It’s not surprising that the world was astounded by the signs that Pope Francis was such a personally humble man who declined any appearance of pomp and exaltation. And there were those who accused him of “pauperism,” pretending to a poverty that wasn’t genuine.

The virtue of humility too often has been preached to people who already had no status—and as a result, no self-esteem—and it just made them feel worse about themselves and willing to let others push them around. Jesus was talking to the leaders, those who had plenty of status and weren’t afraid to trade on it. The pope, like Jesus before him, pointed out that his example was for his fellow cardinals, bishops, and priests, those who might be tempted to accept the social marks of importance, all the little perks that come with status in society.

True humility is not about letting others push us around. Neither is it running ourselves down or being falsely modest about what we can do. It’s about realizing that who we are in relationship to one another depends solely on who we are in relationship to God. It’s about recognizing that the gifts we have and the recognition that comes to us rightly belongs to God. We will accept ourselves and those around us as truly equal in God’s eyes.


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James: This James is the brother of John the Evangelist. The two were called by Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20). 
<p>James was one of the favored three who had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in Gethsemani. </p><p>Two incidents in the Gospels describe the temperament of this man and his brother. St. Matthew tells that their mother came (Mark says it was the brothers themselves) to ask that they have the seats of honor (one on the right, one on the left of Jesus) in the kingdom. “Jesus said in reply, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can’” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus then told them they would indeed drink the cup and share his baptism of pain and death, but that sitting at his right hand or left was not his to give—it “is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23b). It remained to be seen how long it would take to realize the implications of their confident “We can!” </p><p>The other disciples became indignant at the ambition of James and John. Then Jesus taught them all the lesson of humble service: The purpose of authority is to serve. They are not to impose their will on others, or lord it over them. This is the position of Jesus himself. He was the servant of all; the service imposed on him was the supreme sacrifice of his own life. </p><p>On another occasion, James and John gave evidence that the nickname Jesus gave them—“sons of thunder”—was an apt one. The Samaritans would not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to hated Jerusalem. “When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them...” (Luke 9:54-55). </p><p>James was apparently the first of the apostles to be martyred. “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:1-3a). </p><p>This James, sometimes called James the Greater, is not to be confused with James the Lesser (May 3) or with the author of the Letter of James and the leader of the Jerusalem community.</p> American Catholic Blog Walk the talk. Show, don’t tell. Values are caught, not taught—all variations of one theme: A good example is essential for good parenting.

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