One of my all-time favorite artists is Billy Joel, and I’ve seen him several times. I went to the Elton John and Billy Joel Tour, where they were together, pianos face-to-face, and it was one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever been to. Obviously, you all know Piano Man, “Do you know any Piano Man, by the way?” He does. Alright, good. See, he’s so good. Now you guys can all do the la la la la la la!
Here’s a cool fact about Billy Joel: he doesn’t sell the front two rows at his concert when he performs. He leaves them empty on purpose, and the reason he leaves them empty is that he got so sick of performing for people that bought the front row tickets. He called them the gold chain guys, they wear gold chains, they smoke cigars they didn’t even care, they’re just kind of like, dance for me piano man, and he got so sick of performing for them that he decided he was no longer going to sell the first two rows of the concert. And so, what he would do is, he would have some of his team go back to the end of the arena and then find people at the back of the arena. We don’t have that problem at the Catholic Church. He would find people at the back of the arena and then bring them up to the front, and he discovered that those were the best fans. And he said after he started doing that at his concerts, there was a whole new life and a whole new vigor, and he just found it to be so great, so even till this day, any time he does a concert, he leaves the front two rows and he brings people from the back.
Sounds pretty close to the Gospel. So, Jesus says when you go out to a party or a dinner place, take the lowest seat; He says if you humble yourself, you will be exalted. So now I just gave you the key: next time you go to a Billy Joel concert, pay for the cheap tickets in the back, and then you get to go to the front. So, He (Jesus) says to us that we should take the lowest seat and that He will exalt us.
I want to talk today a little bit about humility and how that is. I would say it’s spiritual physics. With physics, things work the way they work, even if you don’t understand them. Nature has a way of working in a certain way. Well, it’s true with the spiritual life too. There are spiritual physics. There’s something about humility that even if we don’t understand it and take the lower place, God’s going to exalt us, he’s going to delight in us, and if we don’t do that, we’re going to experience humility. I’ll give you one example of that. I was a newly ordained priest, and it was my first retreat. I was leading a couples retreat, and I was running late for dinner, and so when I got to the dinner, I figured everybody was going to be eating, and I’m late, so I’m just going to grab my food quick and try to sneak down to one of the tables and join in. So, I go to the line where the food is and start making my plate. I feel like there is an awkward silence, and I look around, and nobody else has gotten their food yet. They were waiting for me to come and say grace, and there I was first, and I got humbled.
The thing about high school, when I was younger, there used to be this thing when you drove, you know, so if there’s a bunch of guys or the kids or whatever and you’re driving the car, somebody would call shotgun, and that would mean that you would get to sit in the front seat next to the driver. I never liked that because, first of all, I would always forget to call shotgun, and secondly, I did not like vying for the front seat, so in our practical lives, we’re called to take the backseat to give somebody else the front seat. That can be a simple example when you drive home from church today, but in every way of life, if you can think about that. Take the back seat and let somebody else take the front seat, and again there’s a spiritual physics to that, that when we do that, we’re going to find favor with God.
So, here in the first reading from the book of Sirach: “My child, conduct your affairs with humility,” so everything that we do in life, conduct it with humility, and then he says, “you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”
Don’t we all desire that, to be favored by God, to be loved by God, to have God look at us with delight? That’s what happens when we humble ourselves. It’s spiritual physics that when we humble ourselves, God will exalt us, but if we exalt ourselves, we will be humbled or embarrassed somehow. So, as you go forward this week, I think it would be great to think about that in your life: what are some practical ways we can humble ourselves and put others first?
Then Jesus says that when you hold a lunch or dinner, do not invite your friends or your neighbors, your relatives or the wealthy in case they might repay you; instead, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the disabled, the lame, the blind. Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the life.
So, whenever we’re about our lives, are about our work or family or sports or about anything that we may be involved in, always try to think of somebody that is left out, somebody that is poor, or somebody that can never repay you for the goodness that you do to them. Just like Billy Joel, take them from the last seat and invite them to the front seat of your lives. When we do this, we will find favor with God. We have our ultimate role in Jesus, who is God, humbled himself, took the form of a man that he could be with us so that he can show us what it means to love God and to be God’s servant, to give our whole lives so that other people may live.
So, now you have it; you want tickets to a Billy Joel concert, sit in the front row, and buy the worst ticket. You can humble yourselves this week, try to take the back seat, let somebody else ride shotgun, and do anything that we can to take the lowest position, whatever it may be, to let other people go first. We will find, if we do that, then we will discover favor with God. It’s spiritual physics, how God works, and he desires to reveal this wonderful gift of humility to us.