Let me talk about the second reading from St. Paul. He says, “Be humble; think of others as being more important than you.” [To see the second reading, click here.] “Humble” means what? It means: Me, I am an awful person, a failure; I am no good; I am deflated? Is that what it means? No! “Humble” means being honest. I am honest about myself. I am honest about other people. I am honest before God.
Look at the words of Jesus today. [To see the Gospel, click here.] Jesus praises whom? Jesus praises tax collectors and prostitutes, why? They paid attention to the prophet John the Baptist. They wanted to be right with God, but they were honest, humble. The tax collectors knew they cheated people, collected too much money sometimes, made a good profit for themselves. And being honest, they knew they were wrong. Many said, like the little tax collector Zacchaeus, they were wrong, and they changed. The prostitutes knew that their whole lifestyle, their work was wrong, and they hurt themselves, maybe hurt other people, separated themselves from God. But they were honest before God, humble. They knew they needed to change; they needed to feel God’s forgiveness in their lives, needed to feel God’s presence in their lives. They paid attention to John the Baptist and accepted his teaching about God’s mercy and forgiveness.
In the story Jesus tells today, the father asks his two sons to go and work in his vineyard. The first one says, “No, I refuse.” Why? I don’t know; I am guessing. Maybe it was too hot: he was in a bad mood, or he was tired. I don’t know. But then he was honest; he was humble. He knew he was wrong. He had to respect his father’s wish. And he went to work in the vineyard. The other son was arrogant; he said, “Yes, I am going”; but he did not go to do the work,why? Maybe he thinks, “My father is old; he doesn’t care. Me work today? No, it’s too hot. I want to do other things more enjoyable.” He was not honest; he was not humble.
To be humble before God means, “I think I am an awful person”? No, it means that you are honest before God. You know that you made mistakes in the past, yes. But you look to God; you know he forgives you. He loves you; you depend on God for his help, his love; you know you need His love, and He helped you and now you are a good person. Perfect, you and me? Maybe not yet. But good? Yes! You and I are good people.
You and I are good now, how did that happen? I myself improved myself? No. God’s grace, His love helped me. I remember there were tough times in my life, struggles that were hard. The Lord helped me. And now my life is much better. I know that what I have accomplished has been accomplished because God is with me.
And always, I must be honest, always honest and humble. It means I know I have talents; I can accomplish much. Each of you, you have talents. What talents? I don’t know. God knows and you know. Each one, you and me, we can accomplish something a little, or sometimes accomplish a lot. But you and I working together and God working with us, we can accomplish much good. Why? Because we are humble before God; we depend on Him. We know that His grace comes to us, and God uses us so that His grace, His love will come to other people. It has happened in the past and will happen because you and I are good people.
Let me end with a story. A mother and her son went to a restaurant. The boy was studying for his First Communion; he asked his mother if he could pray before they began to eat. The mother said yes. So they bowed their heads, and the boy prayed, “God is great, God is good. Thank you for all this food. I will thank you more if mom gets us ice cream for dessert. I pray for liberty and justice for all. Amen.” The people nearby heard the prayer and some of them smiled. There was one woman who said, “What’s wrong with kids these days! They don’t know how to pray properly; they think about themselves only; they’re wrong.” The boy looked up at his mother and said, “Did I say something wrong? Was my prayer bad? Is God mad at me now?” His mom hugged him and said, “No, your prayer was very good.” An older man also heard the prayer and came over. He said, “Son, that was a very good prayer, a very beautiful prayer.” The boy said, “Really?” He said, “Yes, it was a good prayer. Too bad about that woman who complained; she never asked God for ice cream. Sometimes a little ice cream is good for the soul.” At the end of the meal, the mother did order ice cream for their dessert. And the mother was surprised, why? When the ice cream came, the boy took his dish of ice cream and went over to the lady who complained and said, “Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul and my soul is good already. This is for you and for your soul.”
All of us are good; to be humble is to know it is true; it is to be honest, to know that our goodness is God’s gift to us, something we appreciate, and hopefully we will use to benefit others.