In the first reading, King David commands his army to number the people in his kingdom. After they do so, David admits, “I have sinned grievously in what I have done”. While the logic behind this statement is not explicit, it seems that David was motivated by pride to know how many people were in his kingdom. In response, God gives David three options for punishment. Two options mean harm to his people, and one option consists of David having to flee into hiding for three months. David elects to harm his people, saying that he will not “fall by the hand of man”. As a result of David’s (second) bad decision, 70,000 people die. David’s pride causes him to forget that God is the origin of all power, and leads him to feel greater than his subjects, even to the point of allowing them to suffer for his sins.
In the Gospel, Jesus returns to his hometown to teach and heal. However, the people of Nazareth know Jesus’ parents and lived with him from when he was just a child. Therefore, they question his teaching, presuming that nothing great could come from such humble beginnings. Thus the people of Nazareth fail to recognize God among them.
God, in His greatness, assumes a humble form, while we humans often presume greatness, despite our lowliness. However, each of us is called to serve others and to exalt God above all.
This is something that can be particularly difficult for Americans. I was recently in India for a wedding and spent a lot of time at family functions. I was struck by how important hierarchy was in social norms. For example, food is always served to the oldest men and women present first. If a priest or sister is present, he or she would be served first, even if there are older people in the room. Everyone has their place, and this is observed out of respect and humility. In our American culture, we tend to reject this notion of hierarchy and to see obedience and service as something to be disdained. The emphasis is typically on our own importance and on what we “deserve”. But today’s readings warn us of the dangers of pride and remind us that God set an example of humility that we need to follow.
It takes a lot of effort to overcome our natural tendency toward pride. But it is an endeavor that is critical to our spiritual growth. As St. John Vianney said, "humility is to the various virtues what the chain is in a rosary. Take away the chain and the beads are scattered; remove humility and all virtues vanish."
Let us strive today to fulfill the two greatest commandments - to love and serve God above all else, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.