Cats and Humility
August 29, 2004
Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14
Cats are not known for their humility. In fact thousands of years ago cats were worshipped as gods. Apparently they have not forgotten this. The life of a cat revolves around what the cat wants to do: to eat, to stretch, to be petted, to sleep. Cats seem to be able to exult themselves and get away with it. They are perhaps the only animals to which the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel do not apply. For what Jesus tells His disciples is that those who exult themselves will be humbled. It is only by humbling ourselves that we can be exulted.
Now what is humility? And why is it that Jesus thinks it is so important? Humility is the willingness to acknowledge our own limitations. Humility tells us that it is a value, a benefit for us to own our weaknesses. We actually take a step forward when we are able to say: I am not as patient as I need to be with my family; I am not as creative as someone else might be; I find it difficult to say I am sorry; I hold prejudices against certain people; I am not a good listener.
Through all these honest acknowledgements of our limitations we can move towards the truth without devaluing ourselves. Because honest humility allows us to acknowledge our weaknesses and at the same time realize that we remain people of goodness and dignity. We might not be perfect, but we have value. We might not be able to do everything, but we have something to contribute. Humility allows us to claim the truth about ourselves. But humility does not only influenced the understanding of ourselves. It changes our view of others. For humility allows us to see the goodness of others and to treat them with reverence.
Why is it that as we experience a death in our family, the small actions of kindness and thoughtfulness of others so deeply move us? It is because death makes us humble. It forces us to face our mortality and our need. In that humility we can more clearly see the goodness of others as they minister to us in our grief. Why is it that the alcoholics or those involved in 12-step programs can so clearly appreciate the value of life and create such tight bonds with others in the recovery community? Because their addiction makes them humble and they realize that every day they are clean is a gift. They will make any sacrifice would to be with a fellow alcoholic at a time of temptation. Why is it that people who struggle with cancer or any other serious disease are often so willing to extend themselves to others who struggle with the same sickness? It is because the cancer makes them humble, and they can more clearly see the reverence of their own life and the value and goodness of every other person.
People who are proud, who feel they can do it on their own, are not able to see as clearly the reverence that they should have for others. They tend to relate to others in terms of what the other can provide for them. That is why Jesus gives that strong teaching in today’s Gospel saying that we should not invite anyone to our house that can repay us, but rather the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame. He says this to make it very clear that our association with others should not flow from our use of them but from their value as people.
The great Jewish theologian Martin Buber was once asked a very common question, “Where is God?” Buber rightly avoided the cliché “God is everywhere.” What Buber said was “God is found between people.” God is found in the relationships that bind us to one another. The proud person does not really see the essential quality of human relationships. He or she might be a very open caring person, willing to give to others but unaware of his or her own limitations. The proud person does not see how crucially we need one another. The person of humility does in fact recognize the need for relationships and therefore finds God “between us.”
Cats believe they are self sufficient, that they can do it own their own. Christians know that they are not. They understand that God is to be found when we acknowledge our limitations and recognize our radical need for one another. This fundamental insight is what makes love the highest of all Christian virtues. For love tells us that it is in our relationship to each other that we find God. Love is, indeed, the only way to God. But if that is true, then today’s Gospel is important. Because if love is the only road to God, it is only the humble who will walk upon it.