(N.B: Reflections on September 8, the Nativity of Mother Mary will be published)
Sir 3:17-20, 28-9; Heb 12:18-9, 22-24a; Lk14:1, 7-14
The theme of today’s liturgy is ‘Humility’. Once when Jesus was teaching His disciples the meaning of true greatness, He called a child and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is greater in the Kingdom of Heaven.” [Mt. 18:2-4]
The natural tendency of an innocent child is to love everyone, to show respect and to share whatever it has, be it toys or food. Competition at all costs is not a natural tendency of the child. It is a learned behavior. As we all know, once a child has been corrupted by his environment, it becomes self-centered. This is very noticeable during Olympic and sport events where every participant wants to become number one. Everyone competes to win that famous gold medal that elevates the individual above all the others. And then, as is often observed, as the glory that awaits the winner increases, less humility is found in the participants, especially the winners. We also come across persons who are ready to commit their lives and remain only in the background. There are persons who take care of orphans, teachers who dedicate their lives, housewives who work so silently, and factory workers who share in the production.
Humility is practiced by providing the opportunity for others to be heard. When attending classes, study groups, meetings, there is no humility when one or two persons always take over as if the others did not exist, the others cannot grow in knowledge and wisdom unless they are allowed to participate in the group, whatever it may be. It takes a lot of humility to sit back and to be silent, even to allow others to make mistakes without condemning them, so they too may grow in knowledge and wisdom.
Humility is also found in families where both parents are united as one in their decision making process. Neither spouse strives to control the other one. All decisions are made in harmony and love, both spouses humbly respecting each other.
During today’s Gospel reading, we heard Jesus talking about where the guests should sit at the table when invited somewhere. As a general rule in a fixed system, the most distinguished guest sits at the right hand side of the host where he receives the highest honor. The second most important guest sits at the left side of the host, and so on. While Jesus was aware of this fixed system, he was not presenting a lesson in social etiquette. He used this example of good manners at the table to draw attention to how honor is accredited in the Kingdom of God.
When Jesus pointed out that it is for the host to invite the guest to come and move to a higher position [Lk. 14:10] at the table, He was saying something else. The attendance of the guest at the table depends on an invitation from God. And the reward lies in the growing likeness of God Himself who tells the least worthy to come up higher.
Jesus’ second message in today’s Gospel reading is that we should not invite to the table those we know. By doing so, we only expect that we will be invited by them as their way of showing gratitude for having invited them. A lot of people have a problem with this teaching because it goes against a social tradition. Guests who are invited to a party feel obligated to invite the host in the near future to a party of their own. And if they do not hold a party or invite the host as expected, they are labeled as being heartless. If an invited guest is poor and cannot afford to hold a party to which the host would be invited, he is labeled as being cheap. From that follows a classification system where the rich are associated with the rich versus the poor being associating with the poor.
But, in the Body of Christ, there are no distinctions. We should not be inviting someone to the table because he or she is rich, famous, educated or because we need a favor in return. We should be inviting them in the love of Christ so they may joyfully share in our meals and feasts.
There is a story of a person who had gone for the weekly fair. On his way back he had to go through the narrow path and it was dark. He slipped and fell into the muck which happened to be sinking sand. It was cold and there was no one to help. As he was slowly sinking and crying in fear and agony, a person came on a chariot. He saw the helpless man and stopped the chariot. With the help of a rope which he made the man hold tightly he coaxed his horse to pull the man out. He took this man home almost half dead, took care of him and made him recover in next two days. Then he told him that he was fit enough to go home. The man looked at him and thanked him and asked his name. The host refused. When still he insisted for the name he told him, “Tell me, what is the name of the Good Samaritan in the Bible?” The man said, “Jesus has not mentioned it. I do not know.” “So too I,” replied the man, “I will not give you either. Go and be a Good Samaritan.”
The man remained humble, serviceable helpful and anonymous only to serve. Jesus asks of us today this virtue from us not to seek glory but to do our best and the maximum and be at the service of humanity.
Eugene Lobo S J