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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C (2)
The second reading has an important lesson for us. The Letter to the Hebrews is comparing how the Jewish people saw God and how God came to us in Jesus. When God came to them with all his seeming power and glory, they could not get close to him. They ran away in fear. But when God came in the human flesh of Jesus, we were able to draw close to the mystery of love that God shows us, a mystery we celebrate at every Mass, when our humble elements of bread and wine become the ongoing presence of Jesus in our midst. God speaks to us in humility. We need humility to hear.
Today’s Gospel contains two teachings of similar styles. Both are about banquets. “When you go to a banquet” and “When you give a banquet.” Both have a cautioning phrase, “Don’t sit at a high place, lest you be put down,” and “Don’t put out a spread for the rich to impress them, lest you already receive your reward.” Both have the teaching, “But when…”.
The Lord is not playing Miss Manners. He’s not giving lessons in proper etiquette. He is teaching us the proper way to view ourselves and others. He is teaching us about honor, respect, and, particularly, about humility.
A number of years ago there was a terrible article in T.V. Guide entitled “You are where you sit.” Part of it is as follows:
“In Hollywood you are where you sit. This is called power seating. A strategically placed table indicates to the community your prominent and important position in the industry. It is so important that one major studio assigns a full time PR person to make sure the studio doesn’t play second fiddle to anyone. One television producer has his secretary call before a meal and politely note that if the table isn’t in the right place, her boss won’t go. One producer put it this way, ‘Information is power. I don’t want to be seen seated with two dentists and three veterinarians. It ruins my image, and they have nothing to offer me.'” Obviously, humility was not that producer’s forte. His place at table had to signify his importance, his superiority over others.
The Banquet table in the first part of the Gospel is the Table of the Lord. We are invited to the celebration of God’s Kingdom. Our joy should be that we are invited to this meal. We cannot be concerned with comparing ourselves to the other guests. We are told that we shouldn’t think so highly of ourselves that we put ourselves over other people. Symbolically, we shouldn’t move to the best seat at the banquet thinking that we are so much better than everyone else.
Are we better than others because we are here at Mass right now and others are not planning on worshiping this weekend? Is that how the Lord wants us to think? Of course not.
A number of years ago I was speaking with a young lady, in her first years of college. She had been very involved in high school ministry and used to give some of the best talks and the most spiritual sharing. She was holy, but, sometimes, a bit pietistic. Whether she meant it or not, she conveyed a bit of a “better than thou” attitude. She wanted to talk to me because she wanted to start a separate prayer group for those, and these were her words, “who were “really up there spiritually speaking.” I left the discussion thinking, “How can she possibly think that she was spiritually superior to someone else?” She, evidently, thought that she deserved a higher place at the Table of the Lord. Unfortunately, she soon found herself outside of the banquet altogether when she became infatuated and chose to become sexually active outside of marriage.
I, and I am sure you, run into many people who assert their high spirituality, greater than all others, save those who share their particular experiences. They are part of a particular prayer movement or a spiritual group, or they have visited shrines, they join a traditionalist parish and consider themselves the “faithful Catholics” as in real Catholics opposed to the rest of us. They insinuate, or even say directly: “I’m sorry that you haven’t made this movement, joined this group or visited that shrine. You are really missing out here.” And in this way purport to be so much better than everyone else. What they are in fact saying is, “You haven’t made this movement, you haven’t visited this shrine, well, you’re just not up there, spiritually.” A truly holy person would never belittle the faith-life of another person. The first dinner instruction encourages us to recognize who we are before the Lord, not to be concerned with making believe we are better than others.
The second part of the gospel does not speak about the Table of the Lord, but refers to honoring people for favors to come later.
During my junior year of college I was invited to a meal that I was surprised to find out was in my honor. It was put on by the parents of one of the Freshmen that I was assigned to supervise by my college-big brother. This individual was not studying to be a priest, but was living with the seminary students and was expected to follow their routine. In turns out that his parents owned a very good restaurant in New York City. You would not believe this meal they had ready. The table was stacked high with filet mignons. During the meal his parents kept telling me that they were happy I was supervising their son. They were more lavish in their praises of me than in the food they offered me. I left feeling pretty good about myself. After all, I had to agree with some of it.
About a week later, the young man mentioned to me that when I assign chores for the Freshmen for the next month, he really didn’t want to do anything that would take too long or would be too difficult. I ignored this and gave him whatever job
he was in line for. His parents never spoke to me again.
I was not being honored, I was being used.
The second dinner instruction, about not looking for pay-backs, tells us to be sincere. The Christian attitude should be to care genuinely for others, not try to buy them. If we are concerned with whom they are, not what they can do for us, then we are honoring the Lord who is present within them.
Put both dinner instructions together and we have, simply enough: recognize the presence of the Lord in ourselves and in others and honor that presence. This is Christian humility. Humility is rejoicing in whom we are and who others are before the Lord. If we live this way then we, the humble, will be exalted by the Lord.
From the Book of the Prophet Micah, chapter 6 verse 8: He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C (1)
God is never impressed by size. A tiny diamond is worth more than a giant rock. A tiny baby is just as important as a grown man.
Have you ever noticed that the most beautiful sounds come from the smallest birds? Think about it. An eagle can screech; a turkey can gobble; an ostrich makes no sound at all. But a tiny canary or a little wren can make some of the most beautiful music ever heard.
You see, God gives every creature its own gift. The mighty eagle may appear majestic as it soars gracefully overhead, but it would never win a talent contest. The little canary sing a beautiful song, but wouldn’t have a chance in a tug of war with the eagle. God has made everything beautiful and special and unique in its own way.
God has made you beautiful, special and unique, too. Each of you has different talents, gifts, abilities. None of us is the best at everything. But God loves each of us the same and He wants us to develop the gifts He has given us and use them to His glory.
Adult. We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore, he changes them into “nice people.” (1)
A married couple trying to live up to a snobbish lifestyle went to a party. The conversation turned to Mozart. “Absolutely brilliant. Magnificent. A genius!”
The woman, wanting to join in the conversation, remarked casually, “Ah, Mozart. You’re so right. I love him. Only this morning I saw him getting on the No. 5 bus going to Coney Island.”
There was a sudden hush, and everyone looked at her. Her husband was mortified. He pulled her away and whispered, “We’re leaving right now. Get your coat and let’s get out of here.” As they drove home, he kept muttering to himself. Finally his wife turned to him. “You’re angry about something.”
“Oh really? You noticed?” he sneered. “I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life! You saw Mozart take the No. 5 bus to Coney Island? You idiot! Don’t you know the No. 5 bus doesn’t go out to Coney Island?”
I wonder if anyone here today has ever gone to a party with the hopes of making a good impression? Has anybody here ever THROWN a party that you hoped made a good impression? There are many of the teachings of Jesus that we give lip service to, but if we were to follow them, we would be regarded as eccentric and a bit radical. Today’s lesson is a good example. At first it’s kind of amusing.
Jesus was eating at the house of a prominent Pharisee. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable:
Don’t seek out a place of honor. Rather let a place of honor seek you. Pretty good advice. It would be embarrassing if you sat down at the head table and then discovered you weren’t supposed to be at the head table. How much better to choose a place out in the crowd; then when everyone is gathered, let the host seek you out and lead you to the head table while everyone watches with envy and admiration.
We live in a time of hyperbole. Exaggeration. Few products live up to their advertising. When one does, we are surprised, delighted. But, of course, I doubt this is what Jesus had in mind. He seems to be advocating a lifestyle of humility. Nothing ground shaking there.Humility is a virtue we all struggle to obtain. Its opposite, pride, is the fundamental flaw of all human beings. Consider the beginning of Genesis and the story of the first sin. There is a far deeper element to the story of original sin than the mere decision of Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. This was the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If they ate this fruit they would experience evil. But Adam and Eve decided that they were not going to be told what to do or not do by God. The serpent said to them, “Eat this and you will be like God.” He appealed to their pride. They didn’t eat the apple because they were hungry and there was nothing else to eat. They ate the apple because they decided that they did not need God. The original sin of mankind was disobedience occasioned by pride.
We have to make war on our own pride. When we think about it, all of our sins are rooted in our own pride. There is that “nobody is going to tell me what to do,” element of every sin, the expression of pride. “You gotta problem with that,” the sinner says be he or she a bully, an adulterer or what have you. They are really not just saying that to their victims or to society; they are saying that to God.
Pride manifests itself when we are concerned about our status in this or that group, at work, in the neighborhood, at school, etc. Sometimes we ask in exasperation, “Who does he think he’s talking to?” Well, who do we think that we are? We forget that we are nothing without God, and everything only because of God.
We need humility. We need people of humility to show us how to live in proper relationship to God. We have been given many great examples. St. Teresa of Calcutta was certainly a humble little lady who was a giant before God. She knew what God had called her to do, and was not concerned what people said about her. St. John Paul II was a kind man who did not think so highly about himself that he would not sit on a stage during the World Youth Day entertainments and laugh with the young people.
It’s the second part of this lesson that’s disturbing. Let’s imagine your daughter is getting married. Jesus says in effect, “Don’t invite your boss and all your well-off friends to your daughter’s reception. Rather, go to the worse part of downtown and pick up some homeless people and invite them. In fact, you might make a list of the last people on earth you would want at your daughter’s wedding. Those are the very people you should invite. Fill the hall with people in rags who haven’t had a bath in a week.” Now THIS is the Word of the Lord. I expect each of you to follow this step-by-step when your daughter gets married. I’m being absurd, of course. Not everything in Scripture is meant to be taken at face value. This is a parable. Jesus is making a point–but what point? Well, let’s wrestle with this a few minutes.
Here is one principle that is unavoidable: it’s more important what God thinks of you than what your friends think of you.
Let’s face it: one of the most powerful motivators in life is, What will my friends think? We counsel our young people, don’t give in to peer pressure. Just because everyone else is using drugs doesn’t mean you should use drugs. Just because the popular kids in your school are having casual sex doesn’t mean it’s the healthy or the right thing for you to do. Just because all your friends are making the honor roll . . . Oops. Well, there are different kinds of peer pressure. Let’s face it, though. It takes a lot of character on the part of a young person, sometimes, to say “No.”
A study of teenagers and peer pressure. The design of the study was simple. They brought groups of ten adolescents into a room for a test. Each group was instructed to raise their hands when the teacher pointed to the longest line on three separate charts. What one person in the groups of ten did not know was that the other nine had been instructed ahead of time to vote not for the longest line, but for the second-longest line.
Do you get the picture? Regardless of the instructions they heard, once they were all together in the group, the nine were not to vote for the longest line, but rather vote for the next to the longest line. This left the tenth student being the only one who would be voting for the longest line. Guess what happened. Time after time, this tenth student would glance around, frown in confusion at the way the others were voting, and slip his hand up with the group. The instructions were repeated and the next card was raised. Each time, the self-conscious stooge would sit there saying a short line is longer than a long line, simply because he lacked the courage to challenge the group. This remarkable conformity occurred in about 75% of the cases, and was true of small children and high-school students as well.
It’s hard to say no to the crowd. And becoming an adult doesn’t make it much easier. You may know the story of the woman who was interviewed by reporters on her 102nd birthday. When asked what was the best thing about passing the century mark, she answered, “No peer pressure!”
Adults are often as susceptible to peer pressure as are young people. What professional doesn’t want to impress his or her colleagues? Why do we throw big money on weddings in the first place? To impress our friends. Why do we buy expensive cars? Build large homes? It’s because we care what other people think. Some people will go into debt for years to make a favorable impression on their friends.
Spiritual maturity comes when you are more interested in pleasing God than you are in pleasing others. That means doing the right thing rather than the expedient thing. That’s an unavoidable principle found in Jesus teaching. It’s more important to please God than to make a good impression on your friends.
But here’s what we must also understand: Doing the right thing in the long run makes the best impression, even on our friends. Jesus wants you to have the respect and admiration of your friends, but for the right reasons. You can’t buy the respect of your friends–no matter how impressive your parties, no matter how large your house or how expensive your automobile. The best way to win their respect and their admiration is to live a life of quality.
\ Do you have that kind of integrity in your work? Jesus says that it’s a lot more important what God thinks of you than what your friends and associates think of you. But it is also true that, in the long run, doing the right thing pays off.
Here is one thing more that is unavoidable in this lesson for today: Showing compassion for those less fortunate than you is always the right thing to do.
It’s easy to have a hard heart in today’s world. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to people’s hurts and needs and to excuse our behavior by writing them off as undeserving. But it will never pass the WWJD test, what would Jesus do?
On July 3, 1988, an American navy cruiser, thinking itself to be under attack by an Iranian F-14, gunned down an Iranian airliner. Two hundred ninety passengers died in the attack. Polls revealed that most Americans were against paying compensation to the victims’ families. The Iranian hostage crisis was still fresh in many minds. In spite of this, President Ronald Reagan, not known for liberal tendencies, approved compensation. Afterward, he was asked by reporters if such payment would send the wrong signal to the Iranians. His reply was this, “I don’t ever find compassion a bad precedent.”
Who are you, who am I before the Lord? We are sinners in continual need of God’s mercy. The words that we speak immediately before communion are not just a prayer formula, but an expression of whom we are: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” We are not looking for the best seats in the banquet hall of the Lord. We are humbled that we have been invited to the meal.
The prophet Micah wrote, in Micah 6:8, “You have been told, O Man what the Lord requires of you: only to do right, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” We don’t need to be full of ourselves. We can fight off the pride that ruins our lives. We can be humble.
Perhaps sometimes, you feel, perhaps sometimes, I feel, “I am not good enough–not good enough as a husband or wife, as a parent, as a priest, whatever. When we feel this way, we are right, and we are wrong. By ourselves, we are never good enough. That would be pride. But we are not by ourselves. We have the Lord. Or, better, He has us. And it is the Lord who makes us good enough, good enough to do the work of His Kingdom.
We pray today for the courage to embrace our true dignity and walk humbly with our God. It’s more important what God thinks of you than what your friends think of you. In the long run doing the right thing will make the best impression. Showing compassion for those less fortunate than you is always the right thing to do.