Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Sirach 3:17-18,20,28-29 ― Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24 ― Luke 14:1,7-14
August 29, 2010
One of the most important—if challenging—lessons that Jesus teaches is that He gives His disciples unequal gifts. Some are given tremendous talents and graces, while others seem to be given few. All are equal, however, in that each is given the gift of free will, the freedom to choose how we will use the gifts God has given us.
In spiritual direction, Christians often struggle with a sense or feeling that, in a particular area or in general, God has not gifted them greatly. In this case, the spiritual need is to shift one’s focus from the gifts given one by God, to the vocation given one by God. All gifts are given, not for one’s own sake, but for the sake of putting his gifts at the service of others. In other words, the spiritual need is to shift one’s focus from the gifts as given to oneself, to those same gifts as one is called to give them to others.
Our First Reading, from the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, views this spiritual need from the perspective of humility: conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts (Sirach 3:17). If we choose to conduct our affairs—that is, the duties of our vocations—with humility, then our gifts become a source of love in our lives. It does not matter how much or how little God has gifted us. What matters is how we give our gifts to others. After all, a gift the size of a mustard seed—when shared with another out of love—bears abundant fruit.
The virtue of humility is a thread that runs through today’s Scriptures. Jesus weaves this thread through the parable that He tells… after noticing that His fellow dinner guests were choosing the places of honor at the table (Luke 14:7). They were not content to receive a sumptuous meal. They wanted also to receive honor.
These dinner guests were looking only to receive gifts. They were not thinking of giving. This is natural, on the one hand, since when you accept a dinner invitation, you’re accepting a gift. On the other hand, when you go to a dinner party, you might take a token gift such as a bottle of wine. But your token gift would seem out of place if it were greater than the banquet itself.
But here is the metanoia—the change of heart and mind—which Jesus effects in His disciples through His saving words and deeds. He wants His disciples—including us—to recognize every gift, every invitation to receive, as an opportunity to give. To use the banquet as an example: (1) the physical strength we receive from the food offers an opportunity to carry out the next days’ labors. (2) The banquet’s social setting offers the opportunity for us to defer to others in standing, or even to serve them at table (can you imagine one of the leading Pharisees in the Gospel serving food and drink to his fellow Pharisees?). (3) The same social setting also gives the opportunity—to those so gifted—to use their wit and charm to bring joy and levity to others’ hearts (rather than merely to make themselves the center of attention). (4) The invitation to another’s home is, as mentioned, an opportunity to offer a ‘housewarming gift’.
Through the metanoia that the Eucharist makes possible, we live more fully as members of Jesus’ Mystical Body, recognizing our daily opportunities to serve in the Name of Jesus.