This is a lesson on humility, chosen to fit the Gospel of the day.
Pride is the deadliest of the seven deadly sins, while humility is perhaps the most characteristic of Christian virtues.
The humble person finds “favor in the sight of the Lord,” not because that favor is a reward for humility, but because humility, like faith, means abandoning self-assertion, all trust in one’s own righteousness, and allowing God to act where we can do nothing.
Psalm 68 is a confused melee of themes, thought by some scholars to be a series of headings to a number of different liturgical pieces rather than a unitary psalm. To read it is rather like reading the chapter headings of a book.
Nevertheless, it contains passages of considerable beauty, and it is possible, as is done here, to combine excerpts from it into a meaningful hymn.
This selection is a hymn of praise to God for granting his favor to the poor (the “humble” of the Second Reading).
This reading from Hebrews would have fit last Sunday’s theme far better—the movement to Zion.
It presents a contrast between the law and the gospel, between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. Coming to this mountain is the favor the Lord grants to the “humble.”
The parables read here (Lk 14:7-11) and the ensuing exhortation are connected by their common context in a meal of Jesus. The parable looks like a piece of prudential advice on how to behave at a dinner party so as to avoid embarrassment.
But since it is a parable, it must not be interpreted as a piece of worldly wisdom or even as a lesson in humility, as usually understood. It deals rather with an aspect of one’s relationship with God.
God, in the person of Jesus (see Lk 14:8), is inviting all people to the messianic feast. The only way to respond to this invitation is to renounce any claim or merit of one’s own.
The Pharisees expected the best seats as a reward for keeping the Torah, but, like the outcast, they have to learn that salvation has to be accepted as an unmerited gift—exactly as we interpreted humility in the first reading.
The ensuing exhortation is likewise not a piece of worldly advice but a kind of parable, its point being that people’s final acceptance at the messianic banquet depends on their acceptance of others now.
In other words, forgive and God will forgive you.
Thus, humility in the Christian sense is not purely a passive virtue; like faith, to which it is closely akin, it is highly active.