Mass for the 22nd Sunday of the Year

[126] Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 / Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11 / Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a / Luke 14:1, 7-14

The first reading this weekend is short but very meaningful.  We read again:

“My child, 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 favor with God.” 

As I reflected upon this I recalled a few wonderful insights given by Pope Benedict XVI on the value of humility.  He tells us, “A key point in which God and man are different is pride. We, who are little, desire to appear great, to be first; while God, who is truly great, is not afraid to humble himself, and make himself last.”  This is an intuitive appreciation of both the attitude of fallen man and the truth about God.  Indeed, it sets the stage for understanding the incarnation where the infinite and all powerful God makes himself a vulnerable child.  If any of us would doubt this reality, thirty-three years later we would witness just how much our God gives up to save us.  Jesus tells his apostles that “if anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” But his friends have trouble understanding.  Pope Benedict adds about this, “It is clear, that between Jesus and the disciples there is a deep interior distance; they are, so to speak, on two different wavelengths.” I suppose the same could be said about us.  At the very heart of who we are there must be a genuine humility that acknowledges God and our dependence upon him as his creatures.  There have been too many men and women in history who thought they were gods and yet we follow the God who makes himself a man.  Pope Benedict teaches that “following the Lord requires of each person a profound conversion, a change in his or her way of thinking and living, it requires us to open our hearts to be enlightened and to be inwardly transformed.”  This is important.  Many imagine humility as simply an external way of acting but we know all too well that some deceive themselves and others by pretending to be humble. 

There is a joke about this in clerical circles.  There is an ambitious priest who works hard to always say and do the right things. He makes every effort to sound wise and to get himself noticed.  When it comes to vestments and liturgy, he always stands out.  Well, his efforts seem to pay off because he is called in by his ordinary one day and given a happy announcement. The bishop announces that he is sending his name to the Pope so that he might become a bishop. Secretly, the priest is overjoyed.  This is what he has prayed for since seminary.  But then he thinks, how should I respond to this news? It should not appear that I am prideful.  He decides to feign humility.  He tells his bishop.  “Your Excellency, while I am grateful, I am really most undeserving and there are so many better priests for such an office.” Now, while expecting an argument, he is surprised to hear the ordinary say, “Oh well then, I’ll select someone else.”  And there the story ends.  Did it ever happen? I cannot say.  But it reminds us all that true humility must be truthful or it is neither humility nor the truth. 

Yes, humility means a certain level of debasement; but more than anything else, humility is a profound appreciation about God and our own status.  We neither ignore our faults nor do we devalue our gifts.  Humility is a genuine connection to the truth, especially the peculiar spin on the truth that emerges from the parables.  The Holy Father puts forward the Virgin Mary as a wonderful witness as to what humility is all about.  He says that she shows us how “to follow Jesus faithfully on the path of love and humility.”  Despite her singular role in the history of salvation, she is always a signpost to her Son.  As the handmaid of the Lord, she rejoices in her Lord, knowing that everything she has is a gift.  Of course, the greatest gift of all is Christ. 

Today’s Gospel speaks to this theme of humility on many levels. First, our Lord tells a parable about guests who “were choosing the places of honor at the table.”  He warns them about the embarrassment this will bring if told to move and urges them to take the lowest place instead.  This message is for the crowd. Second, he turns to his host, the Pharisee, with a message for him.  Inviting a celebrity like Jesus as well as wealthy and influential neighbors feeds his pride.  Jesus tells him instead to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” to a banquet, the ones that cannot repay you.  In return, Jesus promises a far greater reward, a share in the “resurrection of the righteous.”

Pride is a dangerous sin. I am not speaking here about a healthy sense of one’s value as a child of God, but rather about an exaggerated sense of one’s worth and importance.  The trouble with pride is that in order to make oneself larger, that person has to make everyone else smaller.  I suppose that is why Jesus urges the rich man to give everything away. Humility makes us aware that we are all loved by God the same and that everyone is precious and has dignity.  We are all sinners who need mercy. We are all wounded needing healing.  There are no self-made men— just self-made sinners.  Genuine humility allows us to put out our hands with other poor men and women— beseeching grace and mercy. 

About Father Joe

Father Joe Jenkins I am the pastor of Holy Family Church and a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.
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