Hello my friends,
I want to thank you who have followed me in these reflections on the Sunday Scriptures. I hope they have proved to be an assistance on your spiritual journey. I will be moving out to an Oblate community in Vancouver next Friday to continue my involvement with MAMI (Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate) which is the partnership of the Oblates, the poor in our missions and friends like yourselves. If you would like more information about MAMI or want join us in this partnership, please contact me.
I will no longer be involved in regular pastoral ministry so this will be my last communication of this type. Many blessings!
Dear Parishioners of St. Philip Neri Parish,
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
The Kingdom of God, the perfect society, which is the goal of the Christian message, is often pictured as a banquet. As such, it is a meal for everyone, not just a private dinner for two by candlelight. All the dishes on the table are for everyone equally. There is enough and more for every single person’s needs. It is an occasion of sharing and joyfulness.
We might notice the impartiality of Jesus. He raised many eyebrows when he was seen eating with tax collectors and sinners. He ate with the Pharisees and with the poor, but he also accepted invitations from the rich and powerful. Luke’s concern with dining has to do with who is present at the meals—not the menu or the table settings! I suspect that in Luke’s Christian community, there were issues about who could participate in the Eucharist. Were distinctions being made among rich and poor? Between famous and nobodies? This is about how one sits at the table of life.
This episode in Luke’s gospel is the third in a series of six which deal with the question, “who will enter the kingdom?” The episode focuses on a party and teaches that religious status-seekers place themselves on a road that opposes the values of the kingdom.
The Pharisees were watching Jesus. We know quite well that they were very suspicious of Jesus. But the Pharisees were not the only ones doing the watching that day. Jesus was doing quite a bit of watching himself, observing their behavior, watching to see how they interacted with one another. Jesus “had noticed how they picked the places of honour”.
In most formal dinners, the seating is a very delicate matter. Those regarded as important are placed near the host and the rest lower down. Often, elegantly printed cards at each place indicate exactly your status on this occasion. At a wedding dinner, only a few can share the head table with the married couple and their immediate family. Some will find themselves tucked away in a corner feeling the heat of the kitchen!
It is easy to fall prey to the sin of pride. We live in a society in which self-image, self-esteem, positive self-regard, etc., have been exaggerated and made ends in themselves. In a book that I am reading, “The Day the World Stops Shopping,” the author speaks about our economy that is fueled by the world’s insatiable hunger to consume. He says, “a lot of today’s consumption still involves fairly naked status competition. Houses for example, are such important status symbols that researchers have found that, given the choice between owning a three hundred square metre home in a neighbourhood where most homes are two hundred square metres, or a four hundred square metre home in a neighbourhood where most homes are six hundred square metres, most people will choose the three hundred square metre home because it is larger than their neighbours.”
Some tend to see humility as negative and ego-damaging. Humility, however, is authentic Christian self-understanding. To be humble is to be grounded in the truth about who God is and who we are. It is helpful to remember that the word “humility” comes from the Latin word ‘humus’ or ground. A humble person is one who lives close to the ground of reality and does not put on airs.
To use a common image, life can be seen as a ladder or a circle. Many live on a ladder, desperately trying to climb to the top. In so doing we may find ourselves climbing on the backs of others and pushing them to the bottom so that we can reach the top. To be in the first place is very much a part of the motivation of many – whether it is in business, in educational pursuit, or even getting on to a bus.
The Gospel is proposing that we work towards creating a circle society. In a circle, there is no top or bottom. All are equal. All are facing each other. All are in a better position to know and respect each other. Many Indigenous ceremonies are performed in a circle, acknowledging the unity and interconnectedness of the participants with each other and the world.
Jesus gives this advice, “Go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host approaches you, he will say, ‘My friend, come up higher.’” Since this is a parable, it must have some other interpretation besides the literal one. Certainly, Jesus is not teaching us to put on the mask of humility to look good before others. Humility is truth about oneself. Humility is different from holding oneself in self-contempt or having a poor self-image. That is never how God views us as God’s creation in love. Nor is it to be arrogant believing I have nothing more to learn in life.
The Lord encourages the Pharisee to invite the poor, the cripple, the lame to the banquet specifically because they cannot return the favour. Your blessing will come from God. It is easy to invite a friend to dinner, but not so easy to invite an outcast like the “unclean” man with “dropsy.” But one must be suspect as to the motive of the Pharisee inviting this man. The setting is a dinner. On the Sabbath. It was a setup. This sick man was specifically invited and placed before Jesus while the religious crew “carefully watched.” Would Jesus break the law and heal on the Sabbath? Yes, in a switch, God does repay, but God does not bless the Pharisee whose motives in inviting this outcast were evil, but through a miraculous healing, showing that indeed the “unclean” is the one who is “clean” and worthy.
It is the poor who can teach us how to be humble. Their worth is not determined by what they own or their social standing. In truth, neither is anyone’s value. Our worth is that we belong to God and are created in God’s image. Let us hope that we are honoured by others not for the wealth or social position we have in society but because they have recognized and seen that we are beautiful human beings; honest, loving and just, like the Lord Jesus.
Fr. Ken Forster OMI
St. Philip Neri Parish