My child, perform your tasks with humility; then you will be loved by those whom God accepts. The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord. For great is the might of the Lord; but by the humble he is glorified.
When calamity befalls the proud, there is no healing, for an evil plant has taken root in him. The mind of the intelligent appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the desire of the wise.
The just shall rejoice at the presence of God,
they shall exult and dance for joy.
O sing to the Lord, make music to his name;
rejoice in the Lord, exult at his presence. (R./)
Father of the orphan, defender of the widow,
such is God in his holy place.
God gives the lonely a home to live in;
he leads the prisoners forth into freedom. (R./)
You poured down, O God, a generous rain:
when your people were starved you gave them new life.
It was there that your people found a home,
prepared in your goodness, O God, for the poor. (R./)
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear.")
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.
As Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Psalm 15 praises the one who "takes no interest on a loan / Such a one will stand firm for ever." Until the late Middle Ages, the Church regarded taking interest for money-lending as sinful. In Europe during that period, the Jews had a virtual monopoly on banking. But gradually it was seen clear from other passages that this prohibition was aimed against making a profit from the misfortunes of one's fellow citizens. A distinction is made between them and foreigners: "You may demand interest on a loan to a foreigner, but you must not demand interest from your brother" (Deut 23:21).
This is a far cry from today's globalised capitalism, where the iron law of supply and demand holds supreme. The greater the demand, the more we can charge for for services or goods. In unrestrained capitalism the maxim is, "Get maximum profit from every deal. If it's is not profitable, have nothing to do with it." To the business mind, benevolence holds little attraction. This transactional spirit also infects the spiritual sphere, if we seek to be unfettered masters of our own destiny. The great idolatry is the belief that we can save ourselves. We may be tempted to think: "I'm saving my soul; winning myself a place in heaven." As if we could store up credits and merits, to be later presented before God, to claim eternal life on the basis of strict justice, rather like a business transaction.
If this in any reflects our attitude, we are living an illusion. The underlying problem is one found upon in today's Gospel. It is the error of pharisaism, the idea of self-sufficiency, the absence of true humility.The Pharisees vied for the places of honour, which they saw as theirs by right, for strictly observing the Law. We, too, can fall into that mistake and forget our complete dependence on the grace of God, freely offered and unmerited. We can be self-absorbed and ungenerous, so that the very idea of giving a party, not for our friends, but for the poor and the needy, does not occur to us.
In this parable, Jesus is saying, "Accept others; be open to others. Don't put up barriers between yourselves and others, as did the Pharisees." Another possible interpretation is that we ourselves are the poor, the lame and the blind. And God has invited us to the banquet-hall, out of sheer good will. God invites us so that divine mercy and goodness may be shown to all the world. But we could resist this goodness of a merciful God by thinking it unnecessary. How mistaken it would be to secretly think, "Lord, I'm a pretty good Catholic. I go to Mass on Sundays. I contribute to collections. I don't slander people behind their backs. In fact, Lord, I reckon I'm all you could expect of me." Jesus rejects pride like this, because it is the opposite of the truth. It fails to see that salvation cannot be deserved, cannot be claimed, becaus the grace of God is a pure gift.
How much better to come as a beggar before God with this simple request: "Lord, help me." We need to face honestly our weakness and limitations, and realise our need for Christ's redeeming power in our lives. The saving power of God is clearest when the recipient knows that she or he is needy. As St Paul puts it, "I am content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:9f) .
In this era of assertiveness training, aggressive marketing and general one-up-manship the call of today's readings for self-effacement, gentleness and a true concern for non-influencial people seems like nostalgia for a more gentle age, or a romantic picture of a bygone world. Signs of pride are all round us and within us. Pride of place, be it in Church or State, at work or recreation, is jealously guarded. As in Luke's Gospel, seating positions are carefully arranged and the pecking order carefully observed. If arrangements go awry we feel offended, even slighted. Are these ceremonial positions, then, matters of true significance or are we merely conditioned from within by viewing our gifts as if they were our own, or from without by viewing our temporary achievements or positions of superiority as of truly lasting worth?
In the opening prayer we ask God to bring to perfection our gifts. Whatever we have, talent, wealth or the ambition which enables us to achieve, we have it from God. If "a generous rain" has been poured on us, if we have been given a home to live in, if we are in apposition to exalt and enhance then we hold these things as gifts of God and we should praise and thank him for them.
If pride flourishes in our hearts we insult the gifts of God. We jealously guard our status and dine in high places with others who enjoy the illusory glare of celebrity. How vain is this concern with social and financial celebrity! Side by side with wealth and social posturing, other people are living lives of quiet desperation, plagued with want and anxiety. We may pass them in the street, as we rush to some urgent appointment or other, and our hearts do not go out to them.
In the city of the living God, everyone has the status of a firstborn child. As members of God's family, we all have equal status and dignity. Can we reshape our values in the light of this? We are not asked to deny our gifts, just to acknowledge them as being from God and to act responsibly towards those less gifted or otherwise gifted.
What is wisdom, according to the mind of Christ? The gospel poses this challenge within the context of a parable. In it, Jesus wants his disciples to be counter-cultural, regarding status-seeking and all ambition. They must stand out against prevailing social mores based on class, status, aggression and dominance. The woman or man who, as a believing Christian takes their guidance from Christ, will live according to a different vision.
In order to follow Jesus, gentleness, compassion, acceptance of the other, must become guiding values in our way of life. In a society based on ambition, aggression, "going for it" regardless of consequences, being meek and humble can seem like a recipe for social disaster. But this is the point. What the Gospel presents the direction we must take in order to build a just society with room in it for all. Violence of whatever kind is a recipe for disaster for humanity. Yet this is a hard lesson to learn. We are afraid to lose face or status. We connive in an unjust status quo, while pretending to be Christian.
Jesus wants his followers to enjoy life to the full. ("I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10). But our enjoyment of life should be in a spirit of gratitude and humility. Real humility is not weakness. Meekness and gentleness are not cowardice. Humility arises from genuine self-awareness, while meekness and gentleness arise from compassion. We need these qualities if we are to live at peace with each other. We need them if we are to help others and be helped by them. They are essential qualities if we are serious about changing the world to better reflect the will of God.