THE TWENTY SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – August 28, 2016

A reading from the Book of Sirach 3:17-18, 28-29

A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 14:1, 7-14

 

Dear Jesus,

My father was a mild mannered man, well able to control his emotions.  It took a major breach to provoke an angry response from him.  The rest of the time a glance from him was sufficient to register his displeasure with something said or done.  That being said, when he did erupt it was memorable.

How old was I that day?  I couldn’t have been more than a third grader in elementary school.  Dad and I were walking down an avenue not far from home.  I held his hand.  What possessed me? I saw the man sitting, leaning his back against the Woolworth store.  A scruff of beard showed on his face.  His clothes were well worn and in need of repair.  He had a cup in his hand to accept the offerings of people passing by.  What struck me as funny’? Why did I laugh?  From this vantage point, I cannot recall.  I do remember that my father paused in front of the man and inquired about his health, shook his hand, and dropped something into the cup.  Dad and I continued passed for a few paces.  Then he stopped and turned toward me, demanding my full attention.

“Listen to me, Young Man.  And I hope I never have to repeat this.  I am very disappointed in what you just did.  What gives you the right to hold another person up to ridicule?  (I don’t think I knew what ridicule meant then.)  You laughed at that man.  Do you think you are better than he is?  Do you know the troubles he has dealt with in his life or the sorrows that have happened to him?  Never forget that God loves that man the way God loves you.  He’s family.

“You think about what you did just now.  When you get home, I want you to tell me what you are going to do to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.  Do you understand me?”

He did not have to raise his voice.  He did not have to spank me.  The hurt that registered in his eyes was more painful than a shout or a slap.  Even as I write this these many decades later, I can hear his voice and feel the pressure of his hand holding mine.  The lesson etched itself indelibly in my consciousness.

I think of that childhood memory in the context of your Good News for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word.  You teach about humility.  I wonder if people might miss the point you are making if they concentrate on the instruction to take the lower place at a banquet table.  The possibility of being shown to a higher place by the host and being the recipient of the adulation of the other guests, awed by the obvious importance of the one being reseated just might translate into a temptation to vanity.  Of course there is the possibility that noticing the person in the lower seat, the host might think the person chose aptly.  Then imagine the chagrin.

Isn’t this lesson meant to take us deeper, to challenge us to act differently from what our natural inclinations might incline us to do?  Isn’t this meant to confront our natural perceptions regarding self in relation to others?  That child that I was laughed at the beggar because instinctively I thought I was better than he.  My father apprised me of the truth.

It is not easy to be a Christian.  You never said it would be easy to be your disciple.  We are back to the narrow gate, the eye of the needle through which the heavily laden camel can only enter with great difficulty.  Through Luke, you challenge your disciples to see others through a different lens.  Among your disciples, the poor, the disabled, the lame, and the blind, all those easily ignored or overlooked by the societal elite, those are to have primacy of place.  They are to be welcomed to the Table.  Hosting this class of people and the publicly denounced sinners with them opened you to ridicule and became the source of charges leveled against you, charges that led to your rejection and crucifixion.  If I am going to be your disciple, I have to be the host of that kind of banquet that you hosted and number the same kind of people among my friends.

I struggled with the community where I worshipped.  Looking around the Assembly, I saw only the comfortable Caucasians.  Other races and ethnic groups were not in evidence.  I should have taken my lead from the parking lot.  Luxury cars occupied most of the slots.  Inside, everything was pristine with padded pews too soft.  I lasted a few Sundays before I went on a search for a place that told me: All are welcome here!

I knew I was home when I witnessed the severely disabled woman struggle with dignity to ascend the stairs to the Altar area, there to receive your Body and drink your Blood and then to struggle down the steps to begin her Eucharistic Ministry.  There was a young man with Cerebral Palsy in a motorized chair.  His Amen came a little later than those of the rest of the Assembly.  I saw Hispanics and Blacks and Asians.  On my way into the worship space, three people at different times welcome me and told me how happy they were to see me.  All are welcome here!

Pope Francis is a herald, isn’t he?  But just as eyes rolled when you proclaimed this lesson, his calling for a poorer church to serve the needs of the poor angers some.  How dare he challenge the shepherds to shepherd among the sheep, much less to smell like them?  His is a difficult message but one that must be heard if the preaching of the Gospel is to ring true in the ears of the hearers of this generation.

I wonder about the padded pews.  I wonder about the elitism that seems evident in some assemblies.  A collection for the St. Vincent de Paul Society is not enough to counter act those first impressions.  God help me if I should look about me and dare to think that I belong among the elite, much less, recognizing the poor and the disabled, think, thank God I am not like the rest of men or even like these.

I don’t think I have to sit in the lowest place.  I certainly don’t want the place of honor.  I just want to make myself available to wash feet.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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