On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
There are all sorts of things you can't do for yourself, from the most basic (you can't bring yourself into the world) to the least (you can't even tickle yourself). It would be interesting to make a list of them. At the top of the list would be the hackneyed phrase: you can't pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. And contrary to what we often hear, I don't believe you can forgive yourself (forgiveness is essentially something you receive from another). You can’t see yourself from the outside. You can't give yourself away completely (you have to be seized). And so on and on….
The longer the list becomes, the more it is borne in on you that you are not a separate department from the rest of creation. You can't do everything for yourself.
In connection with today’s reading, you can't really humble yourself. You can place yourself at the end of the table, as in the parable, but that doesn’t prove that your humility is genuine. Meister Eckhart's disciple, Johann Tauler, was very clear on this point. “Let us now see,” he said, “what we must do to receive the gracious Holy Spirit. The most intimate and the best preparation for receiving Him must be made by the Holy Spirit Himself working in us. He Himself must prepare the place for Himself, and also He must receive Himself in us. What is this work by which He prepares us to receive Him? The Holy Spirit has two workings in us. The first is that He empties. The other is that He fills the emptiness, as far and as much as He finds emptiness to fill.”
We can make a start with trying to ‘empty ourselves’, as he put it. (Here you can read all the synonyms for ‘detachment’). But only the Holy Spirit can do it fully in us. We have to be seized by the Holy Spirit. “We must let ourselves be taken captive,” Tauler said, “we must allow ourselves to be emptied and prepared.”
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