29 August 2010
Please remember to pray for Fr Kieran O’Reilly SMA who will, this afternoon at 3pm, be ordained Bishop of Killaloe, Ireland. Fr Kieran was, until his appointment, the SMA Superior General. May the Lord bless him abundantly with the fruits of the Spirit that he may wisely lead the People of God in Killaloe.
One time the late Princess Diana was in Japan and they held a banquet in her honour. Only the rich and important people were invited. It seems that afterwards in discussing the banquet those invited judged their importance by how near or far they were seated from where she was placed.
At one stage I was invited to a wedding and a government minister had been invited also. Before the ceremony began he arrived with his wife and they sat down near the front of the church. When the church began to fill up with other guests he was asked by one of the attendants to go back four or five rows. The front rows had been reserved for family members and for some handicapped people. The government minister was clearly embarrassed by being asked to move back.
In today’s gospel Jesus noticed the invited guests choosing the places of honour. Here Jesus is warning people like that and maybe ourselves too that our real importance does not come from external signs. God isn’t at all impressed by the games people play to try to show to others how important they think they are. It seems the more fragile we are inside, the more we lack real self-esteem, then the more we will want to prove to others and ourselves by external signs that we are important.
If, as Christians we want to be important or first among others, then let us be first in terms of loving service to those who need us. This is precisely what Jesus did. To show to others what importance in the kingdom of God is, he got down on his knees and washed the feet of his disciples. He was constantly serving others. He did not seek to impress others or try to prove that he was important. He knew God was his Father, as he is ours. He was known as coming from Nazareth in Galilee, a place that had little importance in the world of the time. He worked until he was about 30 years old as a village carpenter, unknown, unsung, unheralded.
So real humility comes from the awareness and acceptance of who we are before God. The word humble comes from the same word as human and humus, which means soil or earth. Humility is tied in with inner freedom. If we are content and happy with who we are as God’s beloved children then there is no need to prove exteriorly that we are important people. Humility is also related to gratitude and honesty. We accept our gifts as well as our limitations and weaknesses believing God loves us as we are, not as we would wish to be.
Pride results from forgetting or denying the truth that we are children of God. We depend for our very life breath from God second by second. Sadly many of us continue to play games with others and ourselves that we are important using worldly standards like social status, physical beauty, money, talents, academic qualifications, possessions, where we live, designer labels etc.
Each Sunday we are invited to a banquet – the Banquet of the Eucharist. Here Jesus is the host and we are his guests. Here there are no special places. You can sit where you wish. Here privilege, status, rank have no meaning. Differences don’t count. This is because before God all of us are equal.
Some people get quite upset if they are not addressed by their titles even in the Church: bishop, father, sister or for others architect, engineer, professor etc. There is nothing wrong with having these titles but if we need them to impress others then maybe we need to take today’s gospel to heart. Jesus resisted all attempts by people to call him the Messiah or when they tried to make him king. (John chapter 6)
That is why the second observation Jesus makes today in the gospel is about those who are important in God’s sight. He has a preferential option for the poor. These know they are not important in the world’s eyes. So he is drawn to them just as parents feel called to give special love and care to a handicapped child. It was interesting that in the story at the beginning, the couple being married worked with handicapped people and so gave some of the front seats to these. These could pay nothing in return; there was nothing to be gained but the satisfaction of their joy at being present at the wedding.
Obviously Jesus is not telling us in the gospel that we should not invite our relatives or friends or even well off friends to a meal. He is using a Semitic way of speaking. He is exaggerating for effect. The deeper meaning of what he is saying is that gratuitous or freely given love is the standard in God’s kingdom. Do we share gratuitously sometimes with those less well off in society?
The Good News then is that we all are invited to take part in the banquet of the kingdom of heaven. We are invited by God to accept his gift freely acknowledging his great love. Humility and gratitude go hand in hand. The humble are truly grateful people who know that all they have received is from their loving Father. The kingdom is for the humble, the grateful, the gentle, those who freely accept God’s gifts. Is the fact that I am a child of God the most important identity I have?
“Jesus meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Yours. Free us from any kind of pride. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA