1 September 2019
Sirach 3:17-18,20, 28-29
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24
Luke 14.1, 7-14
Once I was at 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. Since the couple to be married were working with mentally handicapped people these were to be seated at the front immediately after the family members. The government minister was clearly embarrassed by being asked to move back.
This is like the incident in today’s gospel. Jesus noticed the invited guests choosing the places of honour. Why? Probably because they considered themselves important people and also that others might see this and be impressed. Here Jesus is warning people like that and 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. In fact, 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, 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 was 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. Real humility is the awareness and acceptance of who and what we are. We are of the earth and it is to this earthliness that Jesus entered and remains. Pride results from forgetting or denying the truth that we too are children of God. We depend for our very life breath from God second by second. We know too that we could be injured or fall seriously ill at any moment. Sadly we continue to play games with others and ourselves that we are important using worldly standards. We can use many symbols to fool ourselves: social status, physical beauty, money, talents, academic qualifications, where we live etc.
Recently I was introduced to a man who before we had time to talk handed me his card. On it were all the degrees and titles he had: doctor, surgeon, consultant and so on. There are people who get quite upset if they are not addressed by their titles even in the Church: bishop, father, sister or for others architect, engineer, senator 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 which we read about in the opening of John chapter 6.
God loves each of us passionately and unconditionally. We cannot earn his love because it is first of all freely given. We can only accept it in gratitude. But we may refuse it too.
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 gave the front seats to those who were mentally handicapped. 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 wealthy neighbours to a meal. He is using a Semitic way of speaking. He is exaggerating for effect. But 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 or freely with those less well off in society? It is not a question of ‘either or’ but of ‘both and’. Friends, relatives neighbours, yes but what of the poor, marginalised, those society looks down upon. Jesus is underlining the gratuitous nature of God’s kingdom addressed to the insignificant.
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. In fact 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. He refuses entry to nobody. It is those who seek the places of honour, those who feel important, and those who do everything out of their love of power and positions of honour who will shut themselves outside. The kingdom is for the humble, the grateful, those who freely accept God’s gift.
“Jesus meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Yours. Free us from any kind of pride. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA