It was by faith our ancestors received approval. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitteness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears. Let mutual love continue.
Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."
Our deepest hope is inspired by God and offers us great future prospects. We cannot ignore or reject it, without losing out in the process. Furthermore, hope is not bestowed on us by God simply for our private, individual enjoyment. Unless it is shared, it is lost. The ever-hopeful watchword of Paul is, "Rejoice in hope." The reading from Romans begins with the need to share our gifts, because we are "one body in Christ and individually members one of another." Each one, compared to a member of the human body, must serve the entire body exercise one's gifts in such a way that the hand is never thinking just of the hand but of the mouth to which it offers food, and the mouth is never so absorbed with chewing as to overlook whether the stomach can digest the food and nourish the other parts of the body, including both arm and mouth.
He lists seven of the gifts bestowed on individual members of the church, the body of the Lord: 1. prophecy, in accordance with faith, so that the bond of unity in Christ be strengthened; 2. ministry, to represent the church in serving others in their material or physical needs; 3. teaching, that the mystery of Jesus be ever more profoundly appreciated; 4. exhortation, like parents joyfully encouraging then-children in their talents; 5. almsgiving from one's private resources, generously and graciously; 6. administration which should recognize its subordinate place on the list of gifts and act "with love"; 7. works of mercy, to be cheerfully performed. Not only does the entire church depend on the right functioning of each member within the body, but each member will shrivel and weaken, unless properly exercised.
In Philippians Paul draws on an early church hymn to Jesus, calling on us to submerge ourselves in the loving bond of community and there exercise a loving ministry of service, like his. Our basic attitude to life must be that of Christ himself. As eternal Son of God, Jesus did not deem his divine status something to be doggedly retained, but he "emptied himself" of his status, to be born as a human being. We are advised to live so fully as a member of the church that we are emptied of self-serving and focus on the interest of Christ's body. The Gospel reinforces this principle. We should not set our own individual goals against Christ's invitation into the church and into community. Remembering how helpless and impoverished we would be, left to our own devices only, we take our part in welcoming others into the hospitable family of God.
Again Jesus is found at table in today's gospel. On this occasion one of the guests utters a beatitude, pointing to the future, "Happy the one who will be at the table in the kingdom of God." In reply Jesus offers a parable about a feast to which invitations have already gone out right now. He focuses people's attention from the future to the present. The invitations have already gone out. What is to be our response in the present?
The people who had initially said "yes" to the invitation turned it down just as the meal was ready to be served. They let themselves be distracted by various hobbies and attachments, which are all good in themselves but are not the primary good. As a result of their refusal, a surprising invitation goes out to the kinds of people who would never get invited to anything. They have no strong attachments and are delighted to respond. The parable is a reminder to us to be attentive to the Lord's invitation in the present moment and not to allow the good things of this world to so absorb us that we are not longer free to respond to his invitation as it comes to us in the here and now of our daily lives.