22nd Per Annum 2019 GSC
Today`s Collect sets the scene for the scripture teaching for this Sunday and, indeed for the rest of our lives, It begins by acknowledging that God is the giver, and, by implication, the enabler, of every good gift that is within us and around us and by asking our Heavenly Father to put into our hearts the love of His Name so that by deepening our sense of reverence, he may nurture in us what is good and by his watchful care, keep safe what He has nurtured through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The purpose of today`s teaching is that we may exercise the gift of true humility both in our relationship with God and those with our fellow human-beings.
From the Book Ecclesiasticus, the Preacher, we find these words that you heard a few minutes ago: `My son, be gentle in carrying out your business and you will be better loved than a lavish giver. The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly, and then you will find favour with the Lord.`
The 9 verses from chapter 14 of St. Luke`s Gospel tell how Jesus had gone for a meal at the house of one of the leading Pharisees and we are told that they watched him closely – ever trying to catch Him out. Jesus, of course, misses nothing and told them a parable precisely because he had noticed how they pushed themselves forward to take the places of honour. So he tells them that it is best to take the humblest place so that the host may invite him, saying, “My friend, move up higher.” He then makes it plain that everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.`
Having pointed the way to pushy guests He then addresses the host by saying, `When you give a lunch or dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.` For such behaviour, says Jesus, there will be a repayment when the virtuous rise again.`
How this contrasts with today`s globalised capitalism, ruled by what seems an iron law of supply and demand. The greater the demand – the more can be charged for goods or services. It might be said that the core of raw capitalism is, “Maximum profit from every deal. If it is not profitable, dispose of it,” In this kind of market forces environment there is no place for benevolence or compassion. It is that attitude that leads to the idea that we can become masters of our own destiny – we need to be reminded that we cannot save ourselves however much we might succumb to a pseudo-devotion idea such as, “I`m going to save my soul and win myself a place in heaven.” This attitude give rise to a mind-set that has the idea of storing up credits later to be shown to God, to claim eternal life on the basis of strict justice, like a cash transaction.
Jesus teaches rather there is no place for pharisaism, with their self-sufficiency and lack of true humility based on the idea of keeping to the letter of the Law which denies their total dependence upon God. All that we have from God is freely offered and entirely unmerited on our part. The danger of commercial values is that we can become self-absorbed and ungenerous, so that the idea of giving a helping hand to the poor and the needy, becomes quite foreign to us.
Effectively Jesus is saying, “Accept others, be open to them. Don`t build walls against others or belittle them.” Better to align ourselves with the poor, the lame and the blind for we are invited to God`s banqueting-hall, out of sheer good will in order that divine mercy and goodness may be shown to the whole world. The danger of our time and temptation is that we could resist this free gift of God by thinking it unnecessary! Rather like the story of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray we might secretly say to ourselves: “Lord, I`m pretty decent. I go to Mass on Sundays, contribute to the collections, I don`t slander people or do them harm. In fact, Lord, I reckon I`m all you could expect of me.” How different this pride is from the deeper truth that is revealed when we acknowledge that our salvation cannot be deserved, cannot be claimed, precisely because the grace of God is a free gift. The only way truly to come to God is as a beggar saying, in simple request, “Lord, help me.” Or as the publican in the story of the Pharisee and the publican who simply says, with head and eyes lowered: “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”
We come close to God when we accept our limitations, and realise our need for Jesus Christ`s redeeming love and power in our lives. Grace is most clearly present for the one who knows his or her need of God. In his Second Letter to the Christians at Corinth (2 Cor. 12, 9-10) St. Paul writes, “I am content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
It is only after all this stripping away of pride and self-will that we are able to come to that heavenly situation described in today`s epistle: But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a `firstborn son` and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with the spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator who brings a new covenant.