Edward J. Enright, O.S.A.
North Andover, Massachusetts
Sir 3: 17-18, 20, 28-29
Ps 68: 4-5, 6-7, 10-11
Heb 12: 18=19, 22-24a
Lk 14: 1, 7-14
Checking the list of guests one is thinking to invite to an important celebration, the heart of which is the meal, is something experienced by anyone wanting to be as certain as possible that the celebration will go well. The wisdom of entering into the process of inviting guests to an important celebration means placing the invitees where they would be most comfortable; where they would enjoy hearing what the other guests have to offer, that would be valuable for living one’s days in a way that brings God, one’s fellow humans, and oneself together in a harmonious relationship, the very goal of God’s re-creation through his Son, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.
Wisdom in the context of meals was very common in ancient times among both Jews and gentiles. This is true of both the first reading from the Book of Sirach, itself an example of wisdom literature, and the gospel, Jesus being a guest invited to the home of a Pharisee, on the Sabbath, when outsiders, if you will, were invited. God’s word in both instances is offering the wisdom the invitee needs, to make attendance at the table a welcoming and valuable experience. Reflecting on Sirach in light of today’s gospel places the emphasis on the wisdom of being humble before God whose table, the heavenly banquet, is the most important “meal” that any believer will be given the opportunity to enjoy.
The question, of course, is how to understand the virtue of humility, and how to apply it in different contexts. Humility, meaning freedom from pride, can also mean lowliness, meekness, modesty, mildness. There is also such a thing as false humility, which is sometimes understood as self-abasement; putting oneself down. Jesus himself, in today’s gospel passage, first teaches that humility is the most significant characteristic his disciples could have, and recommending that humility is the way to relate to those who are in some way down and out, such persons being understood as equal to one who is not in such a situation, while those better off respect those who are unable because of poverty, homelessness, and physical challenges, to live full lives. Jesus himself, being humble, drew many to him. As Sirach says today, “an attentive ear is the joy of the wise.” Listening to Jesus, having been drawn to him by his freedom from pride, by his meekness, meant that if one were humble enough to appreciate that this man at whose feet they would sit “had the mind of a sage,” they would discover a wisdom which is sublime while at the same time not beyond them.
Jesus was in a sense notorious for eating and drinking with sinners. So many of these people were not necessarily moral sinners but, because of the ancient world’s belief that one’s condition economically, politically, socially, depended on whether that person had sinned or not. Job’s “friends” – with friends like Job’s, one doesn’t need any enemies – were constantly saying to him, “You must have sinned,” otherwise you would not be in the condition you now find yourself! Jesus tried to correct this reward and punishment way of thinking, but without much success. However, by eating and drinking with so-called sinners, he was able to reconcile them to himself and through him, to the Father. When with Jesus at table these “unclean” people would find favor with God, because they knew in their humility that Jesus personified the nearness of God to them.
While Jesus’ suggestion that when hosting a meal we should invite the outcasts who would be unable to repay the favor, is not likely to happen on a regular basis, we do know that there are Christians who, like Jesus, spend time with the outcasts of society. Good examples would be the Catholic Worker soup kitchens, and Jonah House in Baltimore. Where the rest of us, in our humility, can invite the poor, the homeless, the lonely, and the physically challenged, is the celebration of the Eucharist, where all are equal, and where all can sit and listen to the wisdom of our Lord and Savior in God’s word, and to be nurtured by eating and drinking God in Communion, thus experiencing the greatest presence of the nearness of our God in the community of Eucharistic celebration.