Scripture Readings: Book of Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Letter to the Hebrews 1218-19, 22-24; Gospel According to Saint Luke 14:1, 7 – 14
All three Mass readings from the Bible this Sunday are gems of wisdom and joy for those who take them to heart and strive to put them into practice. As the Bible or Sacred Scripture is the very Word of God, we should take the texts seriously and with a joyful attitude, as they are words of salvation for us in Jesus Christ.
The Book of Sirach, composed about two hundred years before the birth of Christ, is a collection of sayings intended to guide the reader along the way of God’s path. The message is that the truly wise person adheres to God, but does so in humility, because presumption and pride estrange one from God.
Spiritual wisdom is understood in the Book of Sirach as an interior disposition towards God. Humility is an attitude of bending before God, submitting one’s will in order to take up God’s will. This entails sacrifice, to let go of one’s own ways, but is ultimately the only satisfactory way to go. All of us are called to be the “poor of God,” the anwim, in Hebrew, that is, people who out of love for God are dependent on God, preferring this above all else in the journey through life.
Christ speaks of such people as “gentle and humble of heart,” in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, chapter 11, verse 29. Such people mysteriously and clearly point others in the direction of God and toward the beauty of God’s ways.
Humble behavior in daily life is not about a poor self-image or annihilating one’s personality, but a reflection of one’s interior disposition toward God, displayed especially in gentleness and kindness, even extended to those who may in fact be difficult persons.
Such good behavior gains the esteem and affection of others. People like to be around such people. There is nothing weak in the attitude of humility and meekness, but real strength in taking one’s right place before God. As God is Creator, we are the servants of God, willing to risk all to have the life of God within us.
Interior dispositions guide the outward conduct of our lives. To be “great” actually means to be “small,” and therein finding favor with God. God’s humble ones are always open to God’s Word and inspiration, eager to give an attentive ear to what God is trying to teach and say. How best to receive this help from God? Most especially through daily reflecting on God’s holy Word, Sacred Scripture, and participation in the Sacraments of the Church.
Moving to the reading from the Letter to Hebrews assigned to this Sunday, we find a wonderful message in a very few verses regarding various aspects of the Christian vocation. It is intended to inspire an appreciation for the grace and greatness of belonging to God. This is the reward of the just, to belong to the “God of all,” not of a single people, but of all nations. From this should flow a life of gratitude and making one’s entire life a worship of the Creator and Savior of all people.
The Gospel passage this Sunday is also about a humble attitude, expressed in terms of attending a wedding feast. Jesus outlines a rule of conduct that touches the basic human attitudes of pride and humility. Using the example of a marriage celebration, Jesus exhorts the guests to consider their conduct.
At the time of Jesus there was a prescribed formality in the seating of the guests at a wedding. The most important guests usually arrived at the last moment. Consequently any social climber taking a top place could easily be displaced by a late arriving, but more “important,” guest. The social climber would then have to move down, shame-faced no doubt, farther from the bride and groom. In fact he or she must go down to the bottom of the hall as other places closer to the wedding couple would be already occupied.
Jesus is not advising the guests to automatically take a lower place in order to be called up higher beside the hosts, but states that the result such conduct, of taking a lower place from the beginning, in humility, will naturally lead to a higher place.
The point being made by Jesus is not so much about marriage etiquette, but an approach to life and God. In such a realm it is God who will humble or exalt. It is the interior attitude, which matures throughout one’s life that will be taken into account when each stands before God at the end of life.
Moving from the wedding feast imagery, Jesus turns to the host. The host is advised not to be in the habit of only inviting to his home for lunch or dinner his relatives and wealthy neighbors. Rather, hospitality must be open to all, and especially the poor and the handicapped. As God calls to himself such ones, disciples of Jesus must do likewise.
Being a follower of Jesus calls for such openness. As God acts and as Jesus acted in his lifetime, so should the followers of Christ always act. This is another aspect of the paradox of Christian life, that what looks like foolishness is in fact divinely-inspired wisdom. Jesus asks in another place in the Gospels, found in Luke 6:32-34, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”
Jesus concludes the text today with the notion that those who act justly in the full biblical sense, that is, living deeply religious lives in a relationship of intimacy with God, will be rewarded by God at the resurrection.
Along the same lines, we are reminded of a passage from the Letter of Saint James to some members of the Church who despised the poor: “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that has been promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5).
This important teaching was vital to the early followers of Christ and it is remains so and a challenge to us today.