Sunday, 28 August 2016

Week 22 Sunday (Year C)

Readings: Sirach 3:17-20, 28-29; Psalm 67; Hebrews 12:18f, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14

The teaching of Jesus is not just a piece of social etiquette such as we find in parts of the wisdom literature: better to take a humbler place with the possibility of being promoted than to take a higher place with the possibility of being demoted (and the embarassment that would go with it). When he speaks about a 'wedding banquet' he is always speaking about the wedding feast in the kingdom that is coming. Who is entitled to be there? What is the basis of that entitlement? Where does the invitation come from? And how are people to be ranked at the wedding feast of the kingdom? Is anyone more important than anyone else? It seems that the answer is 'no'. In a beautiful phrase today's second reading speaks about 'the assembly of the firstborn', in another translation 'where everyone is a first-born son and a citizen of heaven'.

People are looking closely at each other. This happens at wedding banquets. People have keen eyes for each other, to see old friends and family members, but also to see who is more 'in', to see what the fashion and style is: it is very good to have been invited in the first place and yet we wonder whether others are preferred to us in some way. Who does not think about their place when they see what the seating arrangment is?

Here though we must look first at the host. Of what kind or character is the host? And who is likely to be the more important in his kingdom. In Jesus' parables, the host is often the Heavenly Father who is always gracious and generous, kind to the ungrateful and to the wicked. We are to be like this too, Jesus says, to be this kind of host to others. To be truly gracious means inviting those who are not in a position to return our generosity. You should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. These are the beneficiaries of the messianic kingdom and those who would belong to the Messiah, who wish to be 'Christian', are called to show a disinterested generosity towards the poor.

So today's readings are about humility and about grace. The humble person compares himself not with his fellow guests or even with an idea of what he thinks of himself. The humble person compares himself only with God, thereby knowing his own greatness and his own nothingness.  Jesus' teaching is a call also to generosity. Be a generous host, he says, and break through the iron rules of social propriety. Your invitation to the heavenly banquet is a matter of grace, not entitlement. If you manage to live with a comparable generosity you are already living the life of the resurrection. Those who live in true charity are already guests at the banquet, they are already citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

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