Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God. ...
The father of orphans and the defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling.
"Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
Humility for those invited and how the humble invite.
Those who assembled the Readings for Ordinary Time worked to match the first reading each Sunday to the Sunday Gospel, often to prepare the way for our hearing the Gospel. We can read the proverbs in this Sunday's reading from the Book of Sirach as help us hear the proverbs Jesus will offer the guests and the host at the dinner party portrayed in today's Gospel.
It is common in the Wisdom liturature to praise humility. In fact, humility is one of the most valued qualities in our day in a friend, a spouse, a leader. We admire that rare, special quality of humility some people have. We find "know-it-all" characters, people who seem to talk down to everyone, or any form of arrogance quite unattractive. We all see in our everyday experience that a lack of humility is a key component in the breakdown of many relationships and the tragic downfall of many entertainment, sports, business, professional and political leaders. Upon reflection, we realize that humility rarely just comes naturally. It is often born and nurtured in an environment of faith and respect for others, and, quite often, it has come from some suffering. The word "humility" has its root in the Latin word "humus," which means "soil" or "earth." From this root meaning, "humility" gets its connotations of lowly or close to the earth, modest, rooted in reality, comfortable just being oneself. Quite literally, a humble person, like soil, has gone through a process which has involved some dying and transformation - a loss of ego and self-centered energy - and has grown to become a marvelously nurturing, for-others type of person.
Jesus looks around at this dinner party he's attending and observes guests jockeying for postion, "choosing the places of honor at the table." Jesus appeals to their own motivation and offers them a reflection on a very uncomfortable scenario. They could find themselves humiliated, quite humbled, if they had to take a lower postion at table because a highly honored person might arrive and be invited to take the place they had taken out of a lack of humility. The lesson: If we exalt (or falsely raise up) ourselves, we'll surely be humbled (or brought back down to earth). If, instead, we humble ourselves (or take our real position), then we will more likely be exalted (or recognized for our humility). For Jesus, the path to becoming humble is simple: act humbly. In relation to others, take the lower place. We can all try it out this week and discover many circumstances where it is so true, so helpful. We can practice being more humble with the primary relationships of our life - the people with whom we live - and then with the people with whom we work, and finally, in how we regard everyone with whom we interact.
The teaching of Jesus often takes a more serious turn, right near the end, and he delivers a message for us to chew on for some time. He offers us yet another path to life - to being his disciple and coming to the rewards of eternal life. Jesus addresses the host of this dinner party: "do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors." Why not? Shouldn't the host be free to invite whomever she or he wants and enjoy the "payback" that will surely come from inviting these kinds of guests? Of course, Jesus affirms that there will be a repayment for this kind of inviting. But, Jesus calls us - as the guests he has invited to be his disciples - to a different level of inviting, a different level of association.
Here's the heart of the Gospel for us. This is "great news" for us and our mission for living as his companions in a life of service for others. This is way beyond dinner inviting suggestions. Jesus is offering us communion with him in his mission, his mission from the Father. He is guiding all our choices, our very way of life, so that we include those he includes, we embrace those he embraces, we advocate for those he advocates for and we let ourselves be broken and given, as food, as banquet, for all those to whom he gives himself. And, he promises us that this communion with his very heart "will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
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