Sunday, August 29, 2010

Conduct Your Affairs With Humility, And You Will Find Favor With God.

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
My child, conduct your affairs with humility,
and 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.
What is too sublime for you, seek not,
into things beyond your strength search not.
The mind of a sage appreciates proverbs,
and an attentive ear is the joy of the wise.
Water quenches a flaming fire,
and alms atone for sins.
+++    +++    +++    +++  
Psalm 68
God, in your goodness,
you have made a home for the poor.
The just rejoice and exult before God;
they are glad and rejoice.
Sing to God, chant praise to his name;
whose name is the LORD.
God, in your goodness,
you have made a home for the poor.
The father of orphans and the defender of widows
is God in his holy dwelling.
God gives a home to the forsaken;
he leads forth prisoners to prosperity.
God, in your goodness,
you have made a home for the poor.
A bountiful rain you showered down,
O God, upon your inheritance;
you restored the land when it languished;
your flock settled in it;
in your goodness, O God,
you provided it for the needy.
God, in your goodness,
you have made a home for the poor.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Reading II
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Brothers and sisters:
You have not approached
that which could be touched
and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness
and storm and a trumpet blast
and a voice speaking words
such that those who heard
begged that no message
be further addressed to them.
No, you have approached Mount Zion
and the city of the living God,
the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
and God the judge of all,
and the spirits of the just made perfect,
and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
and the sprinkled blood
that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.

He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing
the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone
to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you
may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you
may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed
with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem
of your companions at the table.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back
and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, 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 righteous.”
Those who assembled the Readings for Ordinary Time worked to match the first reading each Sunday to the Sunday Gospel, often to prepare the way for our hearing the Gospel. We can read the proverbs in this Sunday's reading from the Book of Sirach to help us hear the proverbs Jesus will offer the guests and the host at the dinner party portrayed in today's Gospel.

It is common in the Wisdom literature to praise humility. In fact, humility is one of the most valued qualities in our day in a friend, a spouse, a leader. We admire that rare, special quality of humility some people have. We find "know-it-all" characters, people who seem to talk down to everyone, or any form of arrogance quite unattractive. We all see in our everyday experience that a lack of humility is a key component in the breakdown of many relationships and the tragic downfall of many entertainment, sports, business, professional and political leaders. Upon reflection, we realize that humility rarely just comes naturally. It is often born and nurtured in an environment of faith and respect for others, and, quite often, it has come from some suffering. The word "humility" has its root in the Latin word "humus," which means "soil" or "earth." From this root meaning, "humility" gets its connotations of lowly or close to the earth, modest, rooted in reality, comfortable just being oneself. Quite literally, a humble person, like soil, has gone through a process which has involved some dying and transformation - a loss of ego and self-centered energy - and has grown to become a marvelously nurturing, for-others type of person.

Jesus looks around at this dinner party he's attending and observes guests jockeying for postion, "choosing the places of honor at the table." Jesus appeals to their own motivation and offers them a reflection on a very uncomfortable scenario. They could find themselves humiliated, quite humbled, if they had to take a lower postion at table because a highly honored person might arrive and be invited to take the place they had taken out of a lack of humility. The lesson: If we exalt (or falsely raise up) ourselves, we'll surely be humbled (or brought back down to earth). If, instead, we humble ourselves (or take our real position), then we will more likely be exalted (or recognized for our humility). For Jesus, the path to becoming humble is simple: act humbly. In relation to others, take the lower place. We can all try it out this week and discover many circumstances where it is so true, so helpful. We can practice being more humble with the primary relationships of our life - the people with whom we live - and then with the people with whom we work, and finally, in how we regard everyone with whom we interact.

The teaching of Jesus often takes a more serious turn, right near the end, and he delivers a message for us to chew on for some time. He offers us yet another path to life - to being his disciple and coming to the rewards of eternal life. Jesus addresses the host of this dinner party: "do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors." Why not? Shouldn't the host be free to invite whomever she or he wants and enjoy the "payback" that will surely come from inviting these kinds of guests? Of course, Jesus affirms that there will be a repayment for this kind of inviting. But, Jesus calls us - as the guests he has invited to be his disciples - to a different level of inviting, a different level of association.

"Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, 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 righteous."

Here's the heart of the Gospel for us. This is "great news" for us and our mission for living as his companions in a life of service for others. This is way beyond dinner inviting suggestions. Jesus is offering us communion with him in his mission, his mission from the Father. He is guiding all our choices, our very way of life, so that we include those he includes, we embrace those he embraces, we advocate for those he advocates for and we let ourselves be broken and given, as food, as banquet, for all those to whom he gives himself. And, he promises us that this communion with his very heart "will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Lord, as you help us be more humble each day this week, help us hear, to see those who are without, those who are wounded or broken, those who are blocked or afraid, those who are caught in unjust structures. And bless us all as a community of your followers until we can say together, "Of course, we must invite these to share in the table of blessings you have prepared for all your children, until no one is hungry or left out, persecuted or sick without care, until all human life is treated with respect and the sacred dignity you give to every person."

Andy Alexander, S.J.
Daily Reflection
Creighton University's Online Ministries

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

I imagine that 99 percent of those present at the feast took Our Lord's words as typical, cynical dinner party wit. Perhaps they chuckled at the first part and roared with laughter at second, even more cynical-seeming part. At the next dinner party, they may well have followed his advice when choosing where to sit, but it would have been the false humility of Uriah Heep, or of modern politicians who, in the moment of triumph, unconvincingly claim to be both 'honoured and humbled'.

The second part of the parable shows that the wrong behaviour of the guests is fundamentally because they are the wrong guests. This is ultimately the fault of the host who invited them: he is the wrong host. Luckily, everyone would have been chuckling too much to take offence!

Today's reading from Hebrews makes clear the feast to which we should be angling for an invitation. It's an invitation we can never pay back with a feast of our own, from a host whose perfection makes us aware of our own shortcomings, so we can be genuinely humble, not just acting.

The 'wrong host' is the one whose feast will encourage our pride. Ultimately, the wrong host is Satan. But I struggle to recall a single social event that was not 99 percent pride oriented - in the nicest possible way, of course - even Christian funerals! What a terrible realization!