The Word for the 22nd : of Ordinary Time
Sirach-18, 20, 28-29
Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
Luke 14:1, 7-14
If you had to describe this week’s readings with one word… it would be “humility.” In our first reading from the book of Sirach, the author states this very clearly in the opening lines of the passage: “… conduct your affairs with humility.” Why is this important? First, it’s good to remember that the book of Sirach falls under the category of “wisdom” literature in the bible, and because of it’s relatively late writing (around the 2ndcentury BCE), has been excluded from the Hebrew and Protestant bibles. Catholics, however, find the work to be inspired and includes it in our Canon. Like all wisdom literature, it is a cross between popular non-fiction and catechetical text. In today’s reading, the author reminds us that the more we humble ourselves, the greater favor we will find with God. And this humility isn’t limited to just how we approach God, but everyone, an idea Jesus himself codified when he taught us to “love our neighbor.”
Turning to our Gospel from Luke, Jesus gives us an example of this through his Parable of the Conduct of Invited Guests and Hosts (a prelude to the Parable of the Great Feast). While dining at the home of the leading Pharisees, Jesus notices the guests jockeying for preferential positions at the table. He uses this observation for a catechetical or “teaching” moment, and so as not to offend anyone directly, uses the form of a parable. In the story, Jesus encourages guests not to take the highest spot at table, but rather, take the lowest. Why? If the host sees you in the wrong spot, placing you higher at the table would be an honor, whereas moving you further down the table would be an embarrassment. In other words, we should not assume our place at table (or the heavenly kingdom), this is for our host (God) to decide. Going back to our lesson from Sirach, letting humility be our guide, we should take our place last in line, and not presume that our place should be higher (for that would be a selfish indulgence). Jesus doesn’t stop there, however. He goes on to say that those who are in need (the poor, crippled, lame, blind…) should be invited as well, for as Jesus notes, the host would be blessed for their righteousness.
Not only does Jesus remind us of the need to be humble, but he reaches back to the core of the Mosaic Law, and reminds us that it is how we treat the underprivileged (the widow, the foreigner, the orphan), is how we will be judged. In Christian theology, we call this “a preferential option for the poor.” Those in need require our special attention.
And what of our second reading? Here we continue our study of the Letter to the Hebrews. This Sunday’s passage reminds us that through Christ, God is accessible. No longer should God be feared (as it was with the Israelites in the time of Moses), but instead, wants to be with us.