Quiet Confidence

by Angela Jendro

mother_teresa

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.”

Meditation Reflection:

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.

Sirach 3:17-20

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.

Sirach 3:21-24

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.

Consider:

  • 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.

happiness

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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How To Be Happy For Others and Like It

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

i tim 6

September 24th, 2017  25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Gospel of Matthew 20:1-16a NAB

 Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, the landowner found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Meditation Reflection:

The kingdom of Heaven, from which Jesus came, far exceeds any social construct we observe on earth.  Here our relationships, all the way from the inter-national to the personal, become skewed due to our two greatest weaknesses – pride and envy.

It’s childish really. Parents and elementary school teachers tire from the petty cases brought to them over and again throughout the day by children seeking “justice.” Moreover, in family life it can spiral out of control as one act of pride or envy against another is fought with counter measures of pride and envy and so on.  Rather than accept their own guilt for their personal bad reaction, kids try to pass on blame and push parents to the classic question, “Who started it?”  As everyone points fingers and clamor for justice, the poor mom and dad beg the kids to settle down and just be merciful with one another.

St. Paul tells us, “Love is patient, love is kind…”  In other words, love tries to be understanding instead of over-reacting.  Love shows compassion toward weakness, even weakness of character. Love is generous rather than miserly.  Love doesn’t look out for #1, it looks out for the beloved.

Jesus’ parable of the landowner and day laborers illustrates the striking difference between our natural inclination and experience and the kingdom of Heaven. When I hear this parable I know that I shouldn’t agree with the laborers who were upset, but I can’t help feeling their disappointment with them.  I hate to admit that even thoughts of, “why weren’t the guys the landowner found in the afternoon not there in the morning?”  Even worse, my imagination considers multiple reasons they were late, all being their own fault or the product of vice.

However, Jesus knows our fallen thoughts so He includes important details in the parable to counter such accusations.  Thus, prior to hiring the last crew at 5:00, he asks them why they have been standing there idle all day.  They respond with an innocent explanation – no one had hired them.   “Exposed!”, as my kids would say.  My thoughts reveal a childish attitude of rivalry rather than a mature disposition of love.

But what about the unfair pay?  And why did the landowner pay the last men first in front of everyone else?  Every parent knows if you plan to treat one kid and not the others on a particular day, at least keep it on the down-low.  You spontaneously stop for DQ with one of your sons on the way home from a baseball game?  Only a rookie parent would fail to have the ice cream finished being eaten and all evidence thrown away in an inconspicuous garbage before entering the house.  Never mind that you make a point treat the other kids individually  too at various times.  If one kid walks in the house with a half-eaten blizzard, mutinous anarchy erupts.  One stray DQ napkin, and the moment the door to the van opens the other kids point and yell “What?!  You went without us?  Unfair!!!”  Their envious rivalry takes all spontaneity out of love.

On the surface, the laborers’ disappointment seems fair, however Jesus reveals that it stems from envy.  Next to pride, envy is the most cited root of the many social and personal ills discussed in the Catechism.

Jesus invites us to consider a different way of thinking, living, and being. To imagine a kingdom free of pride, envy, ambition, lust, and selfishness we have to think of it in terms of love.  Not the fluffy, emotional kind of love.  Rather, courageous and deep love which wills the good of the other and finds joy in sacrifice if it means enriching or healing the beloved.

Jesus compares His relationship with us to the love a groom has for his bride, willing to give everything even at a sacrifice, and with great joy.  He compares our interconnection with one another to a body united to Him as its head.  Thus, one person’s pain is shared by everyone, and one person’s gain is rejoiced in by everyone.

Consider the parable again from Christ’s perspective.  The men the landowner found late in the day were aimless, anxious, and in danger of starvation.  If they did not work that day, they would not have a day’s wage and would be unable to provide for themselves and their families.  They owned no land to provide them with some kind of security.  They had no annual salary, health insurance, or any kind of future protection.  They lived day to day, always uncertain about tomorrow.

The first men hired physically toiled longer, but they also had the peace of mind that at least for that day they would have a wage and therefore food. Moreover, there’s a certain dignity related to putting in a hard day’s work.

If those without work were strangers, it would be easier to rationalize competitiveness.  Imagine however that the ones hired later are your sons or daughters, or close friends.  It would be hard to truly enjoy your wage knowing how worried you might be that they only worked a few hours that day and would earn too little to eat enough on.  Upon seeing your beloved child or friend provided a full day’s wage, you would rejoice with them as well as enjoy your own wage more because your friend received the same.  You would also rejoice that they had the opportunity to be productive and their work valued.

Jesus invites us all into His Kingdom.  He finds us standing idle, looking for meaning and purpose, waiting for Truth and Mercy.  He promises a just wage for working for Him – the gift of enduring love, authentic meaning, and eternal happiness with Him.  If we love our neighbor, we will feel pained seeing them still standing idle, wasting the day, impoverished and anxious.  We would want the same reward for them that we received from Christ no matter when they joined His crew.  In fact, to have labored with the Lord, is a gift in and of itself.  When it comes to serving our beloved, we don’t ask how little can I do for them but rather how much?

Consider:

  • Consider how quickly we tend to assume the worst about a person.  When have you misjudged someone’s intentions or situation?  How might you see others through the lens of love rather than rivalry?
  • Consider the dignity of work.  When have you put in a hard day’s work and loved it?  Why does it feel good to be productive?
  • Consider the joy connected to laboring out of love.  Which tasks would seem ridiculous to take pleasure in if you didn’t love the person?
  • Consider the contrast between envy and love.  Envy becomes angry at another’s blessings, love rejoices when another is blessed.  Envy competes for what it believes to be limited resources or opportunities.  Love understands that God can bless everyone.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Combat envy with the opposite virtues of contentedness and gratitude.  Do one thing each day this week to nurture contentedness and express gratitude.

Related Posts:

How can God be both Justice and Mercy?

Prepare for the Coming of Christ’s Mercy by Giving Mercy

The Beatitudes: Climbing the Mountain of God by Way of the Valley of Humility

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

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