This homily is based on Matthew 11:25-30.
The words of our Lord today is a loud and clear invitation to me:
“Dethrone yourself!” he tells me.
It’s a tough invitation. It’s simply against our DNA to “dethrone ourselves.” We all have a need for honor and social approval. The only problem is, sometimes we get carried away, and honor and social approval become addictive drugs, and before we know it, we find in ourselves a black hole for affirmation and approval.
So for each of us, our Lord today exalts the “little ones,” telling us that it is not to the wise and learned that God reveals himself, but to those who are humble.
If we take our Lord’s words seriously, we’ll realize that it’s not at all an easy thing to do! Everyone else is doing the exact opposite! The more fashionable thing these days is self-exaltation, as opposed to the self-diminishment that Jesus calls for. Everywhere around us, people are trying to claw their way up–and the higher they climb, the more honor they accumulate and the more honor they crave. Jesus’ challenge to us is to go against this tide: to opt instead for a descent, to diminish ourselves, to find our way to the lowest rung of the ladder because that’s exactly what he did during his earthly life.
By becoming human, our Lord vacated his heavenly throne in order to be among us. And when he was among us, he didn’t bother to make a reservation in some five-star hotel. He was born to a poor family, lived very simply as a carpenter before beginning a ministry that catered to the least, the lowest, and the last of Israel. And as we know, he allowed himself to die the lowliest of deaths, nailed by the Romans to the cross as a criminal, rejected by his own people, and deserted by his closest disciples and friends.
It is this Jesus who today invites us to likewise dethrone ourselves.
Now, what does it mean to dethrone ourselves? What does this self-diminishment entail?
Our Lord is not referring to false modesty or self-deprecation–when we refuse to accept well-deserved compliments or when we, for whatever reason, treat ourselves harshly. At best, false modesty and self-deprecation betray an irrational insecurity or a psychologically unhealthy lack of self-esteem. At worst, they are unconsciously used as an insincere–though socially acceptable–device to fish for more compliments.
Today’s call for self-diminishment entails something much more ordinary and mundane. Just think of the way we treat the so-called “little people” in our lives, those who by sheer fortune end up in a socio-economically inferior class to us, those who simply have not been given enough opportunity in life. It’s not hard to do at this time of the pandemic: These are the worst affected!
But recall in your previous life the frazzled waiter in that crowded restaurant who, for the nth time, gets your orders wrong. Or that young saleslady in the mall who, because she’s new and nervous in her job, is taking an awfully long time figuring out the cash register. And don’t forget the driver who–believe it or not–commits the unthinkable in this age of Google Map and Waze: He loses his way, or worse, as if it’s such a crime in Metro Manila, he gets you stuck in traffic.
What happens to you in such occasions? What do you find yourselves feeling and what do you actually end up saying to them? When we ourselves are tired or are in a rush, it’s quite normal to feel frustration and to run out of patience. It’s quite understandable to feel that you’re entitled to more effective service. After all, you are paying for their services! Don’t you deserve better? Shouldn’t your precious time not be wasted
So what to do? We could allow our impatience to get the better of us and feel contempt for the waiter or the saleslady or the driver. Worse, we could end up–in spite of our better selves–expressing this contempt, uttering hurtful words and even not feel any remorse, but self-righteousness. In the process, we end up exalting ourselves even if we do so at the expense of those we consider little or lowly.
But we could also choose to do something else: We could listen to our better angels and do what the Gospel tells us today: We could join them and be among the little ones, vacating our seats of honor and dethroning ourselves. In a word–and more precisely–we could humble ourselves.
We all of us have private little thrones that we have unwittingly sequestered for ourselves. We have reserved discreetly hidden seats of honor on which we have happily perched ourselves. If we want to follow the Lord Jesus, if we want to be like him, we need to give up our seats of honor. We need to vacate our thrones.
So can you identify those secret seats of honor and private little thrones? Here’s a tip: They are usually revealed when we are tired and frustrated.
Nobody said humility was easy, but it’s the surest way to heart of the Lord.