Jesus said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Some people retain a high opinion of their own importance to the very end. “What a great artist dies here!” said Nero as he prepared to commit suicide – qualis artifex pereo! The French philosopher Auguste Comte had an equally high opinion of himself: “What an irreparable loss!” he said on realising that his end was near. But these were exceptions, really. Because of age and defeat (and wisdom, let it be said), the ego has normally modified its claims by the time death approaches. Worldly honour works for us only for as long as we are worldly; as soon as we begin to lose our footing in this world we see how empty worldly honour is. We “wither into the truth” as Yeats said.
Jesus warned his disciples against worldly honour, and there have always been many who took his warning to heart. There are perfect examples in the New Testament: Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest man who ever lived; but John was great because he was able to be little: “He [Jesus] must increase, I must decrease,” are the words John’s gospel attributes to him (3:30). Mary the mother of Jesus is the most celebrated example; she was great because she saw her own littleness: “[God] looks on his servant in her lowliness” (Lk 1:48). It is the distinctive logic of the gospel: the first shall be last, the last first. Rank and preferment and promotion are the polar opposite of the teaching of Jesus.
Humility is an important theme in Luke’s gospel: 1:52-53; 6:21, 25; 10:15; 18:14, etc. This was in total contrast to the pagan Roman world of his time. “Humble things befit the humble,” wrote Horace, parvum parva decent. But Luke says, “[God] casts the mighty from their thrones and raises up the lowly; God fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty” (1:52-53). Sometimes the disciples of Jesus are spiritually closer to Horace than they are to him. There was failure – even in the early days – to grasp this teaching of Jesus: read, for example, 1 Cor 11:17-22; Phil 2:1-11; James 2:1-5; 4:6; 5:1-6. And things got steadily worse as the centuries rolled on. Today, once again, there are cardinals who have taken to strutting like princes and with stunning irony scolding us about secularism.
For Nietzsche, Christian morality was a perfect example of a slave morality driven by resentment of the strong. But Max Scheler disagreed, seeing the Christian saint as driven by strength and nobility, not by resentment (or rather ‘ressentiment’; they both used the French word). It takes greatness to become little, strength to become weak, wisdom to embrace the folly of the Cross.
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