22nd Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24 Gospel Reading: Luke 14:1, 7-14
“... FOR I AM MEEK AND HUMBLE OF HEART.”
A truly humble person is hard to find, yet God delights to honor such selfless people.
Booker T. Washington, the renowned black educator, was an outstanding example of this truth. Shortly after he took over the presidency of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he was walking in an exclusive section of town when he was stopped by a wealthy white woman. Not knowing the famous Mr. Washington by sight, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Because he had no pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do the humble chore she had requested. When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace. A little girl recognized him and later revealed his identity to the lady.
The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. "It's perfectly all right, Madam," he replied. "Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it's always a delight to do something for a friend." She shook his hand warmly and assured him that his meek and gracious attitude had endeared him and his work to her heart. Not long afterward she showed her admiration by persuading some wealthy acquaintances to join her in donating thousands of dollars to the Tuskegee Institute.
Today is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. A major theme of this Sunday’s Readings is the need for humility before God. As a matter of fact, humility is the mother of many virtues, because from it obedience, fear, reverence, patience, modesty, meekness and peace are born. Also, humility has always been one of the characteristics of the truly great. Today, we all are called to be humble, so that we may enter into the Kingdom of God.
CALL TO HUMILITY:
In the First Reading of today we hear from the Book of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus) which is a collection of teachings on how to live in a manner approved by God. Over all, the Book of Sirach places great emphasis on the virtue of humility and shows great sympathy to poor people and the oppressed.
In the short section we hear today, the first two verses advise us to be humble, even when others praise us to the skies - “The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord.” When compared to God, no-one is very important, so Sirach says that if you are a great person, you have to work harder to make yourself lower or more humble, because God rewards and reveals his secrets to the lowly, unspoiled person. The lowly person is more open to communication with God, perhaps has more time for it, or has been forced to put his or her trust in God more. Humble people do not deny their gifts and talents. They recognize that their gifts and talents come from God. The last two verses encourage us to listen to those who are wise, and to be generous to those who are in need.
LESSON ON HUMILITY:
In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke we see that on a Sabbath day Jesus is gone for a meal to the house of a leading Pharisee. Actually, it should have been an occasion of fellowship. But instead, we are told, “the people were observing him carefully." Surely, they were not observing him out of admiration or curiosity. No, they wanted to see if Jesus on this Sabbath day would put a foot wrong so that they could accuse him. But before they can observe him, Jesus tells them two parables - one addressed to the guests and the other addressed to the host - and gives them a lesson on the basic Christian virtues of humility and solidarity with the poor. One of the elements of the Gospel of St. Luke is that St. Luke often places Jesus in opposition to the Pharisees. This is especially true in their understanding of what the Kingdom of God is, and what Jesus understands it to be.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet …”
The first parable is a response to the way the guests took their seats. Jesus had noticed “how they were choosing the places of honor at the table." In most formal dinners, the seating is a very delicate matter. Those regarded as important are put near the host and the rest lower down. At a wedding dinner, only a few can share the top table with the married couple and their immediate family. Others will find themselves tucked away in a corner feeling the heat of the kitchen!
But here Jesus reverses the normal procedure and what he says is contrary to the guests' and our experience. Of course, Jesus’ parable is about status and maintaining one’s honor and it is basically just good advice. Instead of seeking places of honor his listeners are advised to go to the lowest place to avoid the humiliation of being asked to move down, with the chance that the host will notice their proper deference and invite them to a higher position. Even if it were just a little higher, one would feel honored by the move, not degraded as if it had gone the other way. However, it is a risky thing to do, of course. One might be left sitting in his lower place! For some, that could even be a social disaster.
Then Jesus makes another turn by invoking the theme of reversal - “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” - and goes on to shatter those very dining rituals that he seemed to support.
“When you hold a banquet ...”
After narrating the parable of humility to the guests, Jesus then addresses the host and gives instructions on choosing guests to be invited. Reciprocity and the practice of inviting people of equal status were the twin pillars of ancient dining customs. Jesus rejects this and tells the host, when you throw a banquet don't invite your friends, colleagues and other rich and influential people, who will outdo themselves in returning your invitation. He has rather different advice. When you organize a dinner, he says, invite the poor, the disabled and the disadvantaged.
Again Jesus’ advice is so counter-cultural and also what he is suggesting is a very difficult thing in his period of time. No host in his right mind would think of inviting the people that Jesus suggests to his supper! No one wants to lose his social status by eating with those lower, or with those with a disability. No one wants to risk becoming impure and unable to partake in religious ritual because of it. But Jesus calls blessed those who invite society's outcast, “Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” The gospel imperative seems to be this: At every table, there must be a vacant seat for the poor, Jesus' representative. It is people who attend to the poor who “will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” by the Father.
The wedding feast of the Kingdom:
But Jesus’ parables are always about more than they seem to be. Actually, the above two parables are in reference to the Kingdom of God, which is often compared to or pictured as a 'wedding feast,' a 'heavenly banquet.' The Kingdom of God does not follow the rules and logic of any culture. God’s ways cannot be understood in human terms. In the Kingdom which is one continuous wedding banquet, titles, positions and wealth do not count. What counts is fidelity to Jesus' law of love that embraces even and specially the outcasts of society. They are the ones who will be exalted in the kingdom of God. Having nothing but their ability to trust in God, they will be rewarded in heaven far above those who had position and honor and wealth in the earthly kingdom. In his wedding feast, Jesus seats his guests at the presidential table and he himself serves them, as he did his apostles at the Last Supper. Jesus expects nothing less of us in this life. As such, it is a meal for everyone, not just a private dinner for two by candlelight. All the dishes on the table are for everyone equally. There is enough and more for every single person's needs. It is an occasion of sharing and joyfulness.
NEW KIND OF HUMILITY:
Today's Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews describes a dramatic contrast between the Old and New covenants. When God made the covenant with the Israelite people on Mount Sinai, it was a majestic and even terrifying event. But our covenant with God in Jesus is characterized by its intimacy. The risen Christ draws all believers up to Mount Zion, a symbol of God's kingdom, or reign. There, all the angels and saints are gathered in a joyful celebration of love and friendship.
The New Covenant brings about a change in the way we interact with God. He is no longer the one who gives his Law from Mt. Sinai amidst peals of thunder and lightning, but Jesus, the author of the new 'law of love' promulgated by the sacrificial pouring out of his blood on Mt. Zion. The Law to which we must humbly turn our attention and receive is the 'law of love' made perfect in the sacrifice of Christ. It is the completion of all previous revelation and brings it all to perfection.
As followers of Christ, this means living the life he lived, one which was characterized by attentive obedience to the will of his Heavenly Father in all things. He embraced the Cross as his Father’s plan to save mankind. Christ did not humble himself as a mere slave, but as the Beloved Son of the Father, in whom the Father was well pleased. Thus his humility flows from his exalted status as Son of the Father.
Thanks to the incarnation and the establishment of the New Covenant, we are no longer called servants, but friends. The humility we are called to live is in the context of our adopted son-ship, as heirs of the Kingdom. This new status we have as “sons in the Son” gives the context for the new kind of humility and charity we are to live.
In today's gospel, Jesus prepares us with some good advice about ways to be a guest and ways to be a host. As God's guests in this world, we should act humbly and remember that we are always in the presence of Someone greater than we are. As hosts of God's people, we should offer hospitality to those who cannot reward us. Surely, we do not have to leave out our friends and families. But neither should we leave out the poor and disabled.
Again, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the virtue of humility in Jesus’ teaching for those who would follow him. It is essential in order to walk in his footsteps and to receive his teaching in its fullness. Over and over he tells us that, “Unless you become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” We need to be humble not only to obey God, but even to hear His voice and understand His Word.
Moreover, our Gospel Acclamation today says, “... for I am meek and gentle of heart.” Indeed this quality of humility is one for which Jesus himself is very much a role model. We often talk about how Jesus lowered himself to become like us - a God becoming a man! How much more humble could he be?
Today we are called to lead a life of humility and the Gospel makes this way of life explicit in its practical forms: to look upon ourselves as having received everything we are and have from its true source, God, and acknowledge Him as the giver of all blessings. We should choose the lowest place and never think of ourselves as better than anyone else, for all we are is due to God’s grace. This is the way to form our hearts in humble gratitude and to live with that peace of heart that only true Christian humility can bring us. And this is the Good News of today.