A young lady who fancied herself a great vocalist attended a party at which someone sat down at the piano to play background music. She went over to the pianist and requested “My Old Kentucky Home,” then sang along. When she finished she noticed an elderly gentleman wiping tears from his eyes. She went to him and said: “Sir, I noticed that you were touched by my singing. Are you a Kentuckian?” “No,” he replied, “I’m a musician.”
Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Truer words were never spoken, as the young lady at the piano learned the hard way. But we ought to be clear about humility. It does not mean putting ourselves down. It does not mean self-hatred. We are God’s children, and so ought to have a good opinion of ourselves. Jesus tells us to love others as ourselves, and that implies true love of self.
So humility does not mean thinking badly of ourselves. Rather, it means thinking so much of God and others that we don’t have to put ourselves on a pedestal. Humility gives us a freedom and joy that arrogance can never approach. Humility enables us to generously serve God and others, even those, as the Gospel says, who cannot repay.
Mary did this perfectly. She told the angel Gabriel that she was “the servant of the Lord.” She found joy in God, for she knew he had “looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” She recognized that God “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” (Luke 1:38, 48, 52). Like Mary, we serve God and others gladly and humbly, because Jesus assures us we “will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”