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(Sunday Readings, 22nd Sunday in OT, Year C) – Catholica Forum
28th August 2016
Catholic lectionary for Australia and new Zealand
Readings 1 Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Reading 2 Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
GOSPEL Luke 14:1, 7-14
Responsorial Psalm Ps 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
We’ve got a certain amount of excitement happening in our family at the moment! Our daughter Lucy and her fiancé Davide are planning their wedding, to be held next May. Or, to be more accurate, it’s the female half of the couple who’s doing most of the planning, as I suppose is often the case. Of course, she’s giving a lot of thought to whom she’s going to invite, as well as to how she’s going to organise the reception. She’s very popular, is our Lucy, so she’s having to make some hard decisions about whom to invite out of her many friends, as well as some of Davide’s friends, and relatives from both sides, while still keeping the numbers manageable. (That final “e” isn’t a typo; “Davide” is the Italian form of “David”). Lucy wants to have a relatively informal reception that her guests can genuinely enjoy. She plans to provide seating for all the guests, but to offer a buffet-style meal, and to encourage everyone to mingle freely.
The image of the wedding feast is, of course, frequently used in the bible, especially in the gospels, as the great metaphor for the kingdom of God. In fact, we find it in this weekend’s gospel passage. Jesus tells a parable while he is at a dinner party, which seems to be a very different kind of social event from what Lucy is planning for her wedding reception! It seems Jesus has only been invited because his enemies are hoping to catch him out in something they can use against him, and what’s more, the guests are all competing with each other to get the best places at table. This is what prompts Jesus’ parable. He points out the advantages of humbly choosing a lowly place, and leaving it up to the host (which we can take to mean God, since this is a parable) to invite you to a more honoured position.
It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t actually condemn the desire to be honoured and admired. As children, many of us were taught that Christian humility meant that we had to think of ourselves as being worthless sinners and lowly worms! And yet, obviously this is far from what Jesus intended. It’s not a case of having low self-esteem or denying our own worth, it’s just a matter of not pushing ourselves forward at the expense of other people. To put it even more accurately, and borrowing from Journeyman’s (Joe Weber’s) remarkable reflection from last week: it’s a matter of being aware of the divinity within ourselves, and acknowledging it in others. This is the way God made us.
The second part of today’s gospel reads as if it too should be a parable, and yet, we are told it is what Jesus said in plain terms to the host who had invited him to dinner:
When you hold a lunch or a dinner….
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
It’s probably safe to say that these words of Jesus’ have very rarely, if ever, been taken literally! And isn’t it being rather patronising to invite the unfortunate ones who can’t repay you, which might just reinforce their vulnerable status?
To think along these lines, I believe, is to miss the point of the passage. We can benefit here from the insights of John J. Pilch, an expert in the historical and cultural background of the gospels. He makes it clear that Jesus’ behaviour was nothing short of shocking! To tell the host how to run a party was the height of bad manners, but even that wasn’t the worst of it. The custom of only inviting your equals to a social event, and only those who could (and did) repay you, was absolutely basic to the culture of Jesus’ time. To do otherwise, says Pilch, would be social suicide! LINK
So what Jesus is really doing here is turning the cultural world of his time on its head. This, of course, is a common theme throughout the gospels.
Getting back to Lucy’s wedding, in fact, there is one blind person that she’ll be inviting to her feast: her dad! Thankfully there has been much social improvement over the centuries, and these days, at least in Western societies, it is much easier in practical terms, as well as being more socially accepted, for people with disabilities to be involved in the mainstream of society. This is true with regard to both the public world of work, politics and so forth, as well as the personal sphere of marriage and family (for which I am extremely grateful, as I don’t think I could’ve found a better husband than Mike, who may be physically blind but sees clearly what’s really important in life!).
But whatever social advances there have been, however much we have overturned old injustices, I think we still need to take heed of Jesus’ words. Any human society will be undermined by human weaknesses and by the human way of seeing things. We can only transcend this if we fully embrace God’s kingdom – which is not some event in the distant future, nor is it “pie in the sky when we die”, but is already here among us and within us. (Luke 17:21).
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus begins his ministry with a quote from the prophet Isaiah, which he applies to himself:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (4:18-19)
We have been dealing with some seemingly harsh sayings of Jesus in the readings of late, and I’ve been impressed with how recent “Ynot” reflection writers have looked outside the square to help us explore what these texts might really mean. If taken at face value, this week’s gospel, especially the second half, can seem little short of bizarre. But if we keep in mind Jesus’ own vision, as articulated in the above quote, then we can appreciate that he is announcing the coming of a better world, especially for those who are suffering most under present circumstances.
Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but actually you’ve been planted – Christine Caine
- Are you kidding us, Jesus? (Sunday Readings, 22nd Sunday in OT, Year C) – Catholica Forum. 2016. Are you kidding us, Jesus? (Sunday Readings, 22nd Sunday in OT, Year C) – Catholica Forum. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.catholica.com.au/forum/index.php?mode=thread&id=188744#p188744. [Accessed 29 August 2016].