|by Angela Jendro|
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of Luke 14: 1, 7-14 NAB
On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.
He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Imagine Jesus, who grew up poor in a small town, now invited to a prestigious dinner at the home of a social and intellectual elite. Most people would feel out of place, worried that everyone was looking at them. In Jesus’ case, they were in fact all staring – “observing Him carefully.” Every move, every word would be evaluated and then spoken about afterward. In this case however, watching His every move is precisely what we should do as His disciples.
Jesus treated the dinner as just that, an opportunity to model and teach God’s Way. He spoke directly to circumstances of the situation, and the wisdom of God’s counter-cultural perspective. Quite often, invitations such as these mark steps upward in a social circle or steps forward in a career. Networking may take different forms depending on the time and place, but it remains part of the fabric of communal life. God made us in His image, a communion of Persons, and so we are meant to connect with one another and to form bonds of mutual self-gift. Yet, our fallen nature can distort God’s original design.
Unfortunately, our culture writhes with envious competitiveness. Worldly wisdom would tell you to assert yourself aggressively to get ahead. Social media and globalization, though good in some ways, exacerbate the problem by expanding the competitive field to seemingly everyone everywhere. Being the best now means comparing yourself to everyone in the world rather than simply to your home town or region. Position, status, and consumer goods are in limited quantity, so one must compete against one another for them. In the quest to be at the top, networking can twist from cooperative work to manipulation, and from gift of self to using other people. Thus, an invitation to a dinner, which ought to be an opportunity for kind hospitality, can warp into an event of honor grabbing, ladder climbing, and back biting.
The communion of saints in the kingdom of heaven looks starkly different from our worldly norms. Those who belong to the kingdom of God find their identity in being His children – a status which cannot be matched in prestige. Disciples of Christ know the power of God and so sense their own humble state in comparison. This humility however, is grounded in gratitude and love rather than competition; similar to the security children experience from their confidence in their parents’ loving provision for them. In addition, the goods God offers have infinite supply. This knowledge of one’s personal worth and wealth in relationship to God produces a quiet confidence that has no need to assert itself to prove one’s worth to others. Moreover, it frees a person from envy and enables them to rejoice in others. Within the context of this atmosphere, real friendships can develop and true enjoyment of communal life.
The book of Sirach also advises contentment in one’s life grounded in one’s identity as a creature of God. Compared to the Lord, who are any of us? Yet, we share in the glory of God, being made in His image, through our relationship with Him. He writes,
My son, conduct your affairs with humility,
and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find mercy in the sight of God.
For great is the power of the Lord;
by the humble he is glorified.
Moreover, he calls us to appreciate who we are as God made us, rather than to strive after being someone we’re not. Oftentimes, our discontentment in life rises from feeling we ought to “be more” or know more, but we base that standard on the external (and ever changing) criteria of the present culture, rather than valuing the unique gifts and talents God has bestowed on each of us personally. The other source is as old as Adam and Eve’s first sin at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We become discontent when we demand to be the Creator rather than the creature.
What is too sublime for you, do not seek;
do not reach into things that are hidden from you.
What is committed to you, pay heed to;
what is hidden is not your concern.
In matters that are beyond you do not meddle,
when you have been shown more than you can understand.
Indeed, many are the conceits of human beings;
evil imaginations lead them astray.
These feelings of discontent and never being enough are normal, but only because a nature wounded by sin is our norm. But Jesus came to redeem us and the Good News is that we don’t have to live that way anymore. We have become the adopted sons and daughters of God, heirs to heaven, and secure in the riches of God’s goodness and peace. We don’t have to compete, we are all ready enough. Jesus Christ our King, humbled Himself and became man, dwelling with us in our poverty and meeting us at our level. He doesn’t lord it over us and exert His position with pride. Rather, He meets us with love. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me” He says, “for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). The wedding feast of Heaven will be joyous and rich with the comfort of being with loved ones and the enjoyment of just being oneself. We can experience a taste of that on earth by treating God, ourselves, and each other with respect and humility.
- Do you ever feel like you are not enough? What is the source of those feelings? Do you compare yourself to others, values of the culture, or set unrealistic standards?
- How do you judge success and prestige? What makes a person “important”?
- Take a moment to imagine yourself from God’s perspective.
- Consider His greatness and your smallness; that He is the Creator and you are His creature.
- Consider His love for you as a Father cares for His sons and daughters.
- Consider His love for you as your Savior, who cares about you enough to suffer for you to have the opportunity to be healed and redeemed by His grace.
- Consider His Holy Spirit that dwells within you, desiring to bear fruits of love, joy, and peace.
- Pray about who God made you to be. Ask Him to reveal His plan for your life and to purify any false notions you have about yourself. Ask Him to help you appreciate your gifts and who you are, irrespective of what others or the culture think.
- With whom do you feel comfortable enough to be yourself? Consider the peace that comes from those times together and God’s intention that we one day experience that with everyone in heaven.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Write down the gifts and talents God has given to you. How can they be applied to your vocation, your work, and the people in your daily life? Read them each day to remind you of your God-given mission and to find contentment in the important work that God has given to you.
~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019