28 August 2016: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 Ps 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11 Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a Lk 14:1, 7-14

 

Discipleship: lessons in humility

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings describe how a disciple’s relationship requires humility both before God and with others.

The first reading from the book of Sirach teaches a lesson in humility. Humility may help in human relationships (“you will be loved more than a giver of gifts”), but its real purpose is to create a right relationship with God. Humility gives us a true estimate of ourselves, so that we will do what should be done, and avoid what is beyond our understanding (“too sublime”) and “strength.” The Lectionary editors chose this passage to match Jesus’ teaching about humility in today’s gospel.

In the second reading, from the closing section of the letter to the Hebrews, the author contrasts the historical events of Mt Sinai with the promises of Mt Zion. Sinai represents God’s covenant with Moses, a physical covenant written on stone. God’s pronouncements were so awesome that the Hebrews begged God never to address them directly again. Zion represents God’s new covenant, mediated through Jesus. Unlike the Mosaic covenant, given amid fire, storm, and thunder, the new covenant is given in the heavenly Jerusalem at an angelic feast. Christ’s redeeming sacrifice (‘the sprinkled blood'”) is perfect and more powerful (“speaks more eloquently”) than Abel’s offering.

Luke’s gospel is set at a meal in a Pharisee’s house. Jesus uses an earthly dinner to give two parables about conduct at the coming messianic feast:

  • Choosing a seat at a feast (Lk 14:8-11). Jesus addresses his first parable to those who were invited. Jesus’ instruction is not about strategic seating, but about a person’s relationship with God. God invites everyone to the messianic feast. Those who consider themselves righteous because they keep Torah and attend Temple might expect the best seats. However, God’s seating arrangement doesn’t follow our assumptions, as we heard in last week’s parable about the house-master. Jesus concludes with a wisdom saying about “being humbled” and “being exalted.” Echoing today’s first reading, Jesus tells us that our humility before God lets us recognize our place at the feast.
  • Whom to invite to a meal (Lk 14:12-14). Jesus addresses his second parable to the Pharisee who hosted the dinner. In Mediterranean societies, hosts invited only people of equal social status. Jesus instruction is not about strategic invitations, but about a person’s relationship with others. Those who give exclusive dinners expect to be invited to the best parties with the best people. However, God’s invitation to the future messianic feast depends on how inclusive, not exclusive, our guest lists are now. We’ll hear more about God’s invitations in the upcoming parable about Lazarus (25 Sunday in Ordinary time).

Today’s readings remind RCIA participants and the whole believing community that humility is central to our relationship to God and to the neighbor. True humility gives a disciple self-perspective: it’s not all about me. Being invited to the feast doesn’t mean we automatically sit at the head table. Where we’re seated (or if we’re seated) will depend on the invitations we’ve extended or withheld. How will we be “repaid at the resurrection”?

—Terence Sherlock

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