Sunday, Sept. 1, is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass readings: Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalm 68:4-7, 10-11; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24A; Luke 14:1, 7-14.
The readings today are a reminder to us of God’s love for the poor and the lowly.
The first reading from the Book of Sirach is a series of exhortations, the first of which sets the tone for all of the day’s readings: “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.” This vision differs from that of some in ancient Israel who believed that wealth was the sign of righteous living. The “giver of gifts” was one who could afford to do so. He was a wealthy man and loved for his generosity.
However, Sirach teaches that humility, or a generosity of spirit, is, in the end, more attractive than material generosity. Knowing one’s proper place in relationship with God and with neighbor will result in a righteousness highly favored by God.
What is our proper place in relationship with the Lord? In the Letter to the Hebrews we are reminded that we do not approach something “which could be touched.” This is no simple revelation we are given, but one that includes the angels, the just souls in heaven and Jesus himself, whose blood, we are told in one of the most beautiful lines of Sacred Scripture, “speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” The only proper response to all of this is a deep sense of humility and awe.
So it is that we come to the Gospel passage from St. Luke, where Our Lord has been invited to the home of an important Pharisee. He notices how many took places of honor at the table. Jesus encourages them to imagine being invited to a wedding banquet. By sitting at a lower place instead of a high place of honor, they can avoid the embarrassment of being told to move down and instead enjoy the moment when they are asked by the host to “move up to a higher position.”
But then Our Lord turns to his host and tells him that when inviting people to a meal he should invite not his friends in the hopes that “they may invite you back and you have repayment.” Rather, he should invite the poor and the lowly precisely because they cannot repay the kindness. In doing so “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
The message to those in the home of the Pharisee was as clear then as it is today: Humility is the mark of the follower of Christ who loves the poor. It is the lowly who will be exalted, the humble who will be loved.
So let us seek always to exalt those around us, to encourage others, to make our neighbors look good, and to give our co-workers recognition. Let us invite a single parent and his or her kids to dinner. Let us offer a place for an outsider, for someone without friends. Let us do all of this for love of the Lord, who, as the Psalmist in today’s readings tells us, “gives a home to the forsaken” and “leads forth prisoners to prosperity.”
Omar Gutierrez is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.
He is the president and co-founder of the Evangelium Institute.