Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 28, 2022
Saint Thomas Becket Catholic Church
Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter
Fort Worth, Texas

Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Luke 14:1, 7-14

“Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God. What is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength search not.” This wisdom revealed to us in our first reading from the Book of Sirach offers us much needed counsel and direction for matters of the spiritual and moral life. Too often we attempt with futility to live a good life and to pray dutifully – yet we too frequently attempt to accomplish each of these activities without first turning to God for His grace. Too often we fall into the trap of attempting to live an ethical life as a matter of self-help or will power. Likewise, without grace, our prayer life neglects the essential dimension of listening first for God’s voice and immediately proceeds to selfish petition without worship or adoration.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus first offers us an example and then concludes with guidance and direction through the preaching of two parables. Jesus is a guest at a dinner party, and it is in this setting that He teaches His two parables. The first parable involves a feast and celebration where too many will be conscious only of where they will be seated and even more so where they think they deserve to be seated. Jesus speaks of how many are rushing to be seated at the higher places of honor. They are seeking things that are too sublime for their own power to merit.

In this first parable, the guest who seeks out the lowest place is Christ. He seeks out the lowest place – the lowest place that is fallen humanity. He seeks His place among all of us who cannot reach the sublime heights so that His Father might call us to be seated at a higher place. Jesus repeats advice that appears in the Book of Proverbs: “Do not put yourself where the great are standing; it is better to be invited to come up higher than to be humiliated in front of others.

In commenting on this Old Testament passage, ancient scholars suggested that when you attend a banquet take three places below where protocol requires you to be. Then, of course, you would be invited up higher. But this commentary really is more about strategy and not humility. It amounts to “plan carefully and shrewdly, do not draw negative attention to yourself.” As Pope Francis said, “Indeed, human repayment usually distorts relationships, making them ‘commercial’ by bringing selfish interest into a relationship that should be generous and free. Instead, Jesus encourages selfless generosity, to pave our way toward a much greater joy, the joy of partaking in the very love of God who awaits us, all of us, at the heavenly banquet.”

While Christ takes the role of the guest at the banquet in the first parable, He is the host of the banquet of the second parable. The first parable concerns places of belonging; the second parable refers to reward. Christ does not just invite those who seek to use Him for their own selfish purposes, those who distort His Gospel. Christ invites the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. We are those listed guests at His banquet of the Eucharist – the foretaste of heaven – for which we cannot repay Him, if we are humble. His reward is of His own victory achieved in obedience to the will of His Father. Our reward is Him. His place is with His heavenly Father. Our place is with Him. Our reward and our place are one and the same, Jesus Christ as the gift of His Father for our salvation. We are given our place of belonging and we are drawn into this reward by the same gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Pope Benedict XVI offered a keen observation regarding this scene from today’s Gospel, “The ‘lowest place’ can in fact represent the condition of humanity degraded by sin, a condition from which the Incarnation of the Only Begotten Son alone can raise it. For this reason, Christ himself ‘took the lowest place in the world, the Cross, and by this radical humility He redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid.” …Christ took the lowest place in the world — the Cross — and by this radical humility He redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid. Those who are in a position to help others will realize that in doing so they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own. This duty is a grace. The more we do for others, the more we understand and can appropriate the words of Christ: “We are useless servants.”

The end of the second parable adds a comment on how we should live our lives in conformity with how Christ lived His life. Life is a banquet that has been laid before us by God, at which He invites each and all to belong and to participate on His generous terms. We should not cast our lots with the self-sufficient and influential of this world but with the poor, the outcast, the forgotten — because that is who we truly are without Christ. We are invited to imitate God’s etiquette at the table of life. He exalts the poor and lowly, and we are called to seek out and minister to them. This is the humility that the Book of Sirach speaks about today. Humility is recognizing with gratitude the strengths God has given us, thanking Him for them, and enjoyably using them to serve Him and other people.

We have arrived here today because the grace of our Baptism and Confirmation has enabled us to recognize and to accept Christ’s invitation to His banquet. We belong here in this place only by virtue of His Grace. In a few moments we will receive our reward as a foretaste of our Heavenly reward: the Host Himself who becomes our guest in our soul, Jesus Christ. Only in the Grace of our humility can we hear and answer His invitation to come up to a higher position and receive His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — to receive Him Who is too sublime for us to grasp by our own strength.

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