31 August 2013

On Table Manners and Who God Is: 22nd Week in Ordinary Time

As school begins again, we may be able to think back to the order of things in the school cafeteria: everyone having his or her place: the jocks and the nerds, the outsiders and the drama kids.  And then, one or two or more kids sitting alone, it’s a familiar scene.  Different high schools and middle schools and colleges all had this experience – and in Jesus’ day, things were no different.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus turns a social convention over on its head.  The leading religious men of the time – but also the social leaders for the entire community – host a dinner party. As the scene develops, it helps to know two key rules about dinner parties in ancient Palestine: the way that one showed everyone that he had “made it” was to host such a party and invite other social elites.  Secondly, the way to be confirmed that one had, in fact, “made it” was to be invited to such a party. 

Jesus’ presence at this Sabbath party is particularly interesting exactly because he was not a man of means: rather, he was a peasant from the backwaters of Galilee.  In a sense, then, there is something else going on here: Jesus is being set up by his opponents as they attempt to finally score that “gotcha” moment in which Jesus’ to prove that Jesus is a fraud.

And we do hear a “gotcha” moment today: but it’s not about Jesus.  No: it’s a gotcha moment for those gathered at that dinner many years ago, as well as for us, gathered here for a Sabbath meal too. 

What we hear today is a great reversal: Jesus turns the model of the meal for elites into a moment to not only suggest that moving to the lower place is proper, but also that goodness ought not be offered with the help of repayment.

Yet this is more than Jesus being a poor guest by correcting his hosts.  There is something much greater here, precisely because Jesus is not offering some new moral lessons.  Instead, he is first offering us all an insight into the very way that God moves and exists in our world.  And, because of these teachings, we, as Catholics, are thus given another way to go about our life in this world of ours.

And so, Jesus teaches us today that God does enter the world with a flash and a bang, but with a cry in a manger.  Moreover, God does not triumph over the world through healing or teaching, but through his death on the Cross.  The triumph of Jesus’ life is not found when he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday treated as a king, but when he climbs Calvary as a criminal and is raised from the dead against all rational hope three days later.  Rather than confronting evil and overpowering it, as a superhero Jesus’ humility leads him to death.  And yet, two days later, God shows that evil is not overpowered through brute strength but rather through the overwhelming love that leads Jesus to climb the cross in the first place. 

The second thing that we learn about God today is directly related to Jesus’ second instructions regarding who to invite to a dinner party: “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”  Again, we can think back to the way dinner parties would have worked in antiquity: guests were invited specifically because they were rich enough to repay the favor.  Yet, from Jesus’ perspective, regardless of what society says about one or another’s worthiness, God does not take this into consideration.  Jesus is attempting to get his hosts to understand – and us along with them – that each human being in incredibly and infinitely loved by God.  What’s more – there is no way that any of us could possibly repay God for creating us and redeeming us.  We are all the poor, the lame, and the broken who have been invited into God’s banquet precisely because he loves us in and through Christ.  If to think that we are owed a banquet by God is foolish, then to think that we are not invited by God to such a banquet is equally so.

God calls us today to act with the same type of reverse logic.  In other words, the conversion that is asked of us by the Gospel is one of an attitude adjustment.  It calls us to first look at life from another perspective: from the lower place.  We often talk about God being “up there.” Yet, God really sees things from “down below”: looking from the perspective of the poor, crucified Jesus.  And, after gaining this new perspective, the Gospel asks us to seek out those who are “down below” not because we will receive a reward, but because those are the ones to whom God will be most present.  As my campus minister used to say in college: Go the poor and they will take you to God; go to God and He’ll undoubtedly lead you to the poor.

God calls each of us today to consider the lowly: the poor, the oppressed, the addicted, and jobless.  But perhaps even more importantly, we are called to consider those family and friends who have been crushed low by life because of circumstance of weakness.

Make no mistake, Jesus is not proposing a sort of political program, but rather the very basic Gospel message: the Good News that God has come to save us, regardless of how we have earned it or how much we may think we deserve it.  Today, Jesus asks each one of us to seek out through our hearts and minds those who sit at the foot of the table – whether the world thinks these people rich or poor – and invite them to this table, where all receive a front and center seat.


Ron Martel said...

Thanks Matt, wish you were in our parish this weekend.

Matt Janeczko said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Ron. I wish you were at my parish!

Judy Kallmeyer said...

Looks as if you are developing into quite a homilist! Wouldn't it be lucky for us if you were assigned to "The Heart" following your Ordination! Keeping you in prayer. Please keep me in prayer also.

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