Wednesday, August 24, 2016

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Humility.  As Christians we are taught that we should be humble before God, not only recognizing God’s greatness, but also recognizing that no one of us is any better than the other.  This is a difficult concept for us, however, because our human nature seems to push us toward exceptionalism… whether it’s by putting others up on a pedestal, or by fighting to get on that pedestal ourselves.  But our readings this week suggests a different path:

Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Our first reading comes from the book of Sirach.  Though this book in not included in the Jewish and Protestant canons, Catholics have included it as inspired.  The work dates back to the second century before Jesus and is attributed to Yeshua ben Sira, a notable sage who lived in Jerusalem.  Like most wisdom literature in the Bible, it no doubt served as a kind of catechism for the faithful, and was likely known to Jesus and the Apostles.  Our passage this week is simple:  Conduct your affairs with humility… for those who do will find favor with God.  It’s teachings like this that lead us to loving our neighbor, recognizing that no one is above another.  Further, that those who are poor, who are without, are in greater need of our humble, neighborly love.  This is further emphasized in our Psalm as we sing, “God, in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor.”

Jesus takes this lesson on humility a step further in our Gospel from Luke.  Here Jesus is dining at the home of one of the leading Pharisees.  During the dinner Jesus noticed how the other guests were jockeying for places of honor at the table.  In seeing this as a “catechetical moment,” Jesus tells us a parable on the conduct of invited guests and hosts:  He told the story of a banquet where a man chose a position at table, only to be embarrassed by being asked to relinquish that spot as it had been saved for someone else.  Rather, Jesus suggests, one should take the lowest position at table, and wait to be invited to a higher position.  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, we should let humility be our guide.

But Jesus doesn’t just stop there.  He pushes his point further by noting that throwing a dinner party for one’s peers is tantamount to returning a favor.  To truly embrace humility in the Mosaic tradition, one should through a dinner party for those who cannot return the favor.  For 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 conclude our study of the Letter to the Hebrews.  As we near the letter’s conclusion we are reminded that through Christ, God is made accessible.  No longer should God be feared (as it was with the Israelites in the time of Moses), but instead, wants to be near us and with us.

Final thoughts:
Black lives matter.  There’s been much ado about this phrase in the media, with some claiming instead that it should be "all lives that matter."  To focus on only black lives, they say, would seem to give a preferential treatment to one group where it should more justly be given to all groups.  Sounds only fair, right?  But is that what Jesus taught us?  Those who want to diminish the black lives movement in favor of all lives are missing the point… the same point that Moses was making when he taught us to give special consideration to the poor, and the same point Jesus was making when he says in today’s gospel that we should invite the poor to our banquet.  There can be no escaping the fact that black Americans have been systematically marginalized for generations.  The core of the black lives matter message isn’t looking for privilege, it’s looking for parity… wanting to even the playing field.  Is it preferential to bring parity to the marginalized?  Perhaps… but this is what our faith teaches, and it takes humility to recognize that.  Black lives matter.

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