WHEN YOU HOLD A BANQUET, INVITE THE POOR, THE CRIPPLED…
Sunday, August 28, 2016
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Healing of the Man with Dropsy on the Sabbath
1 On a sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.
Other readings: Luke 14:7-14 ; Sirach 3:17-18; Sirach 3:20; Sirach 3:28-29; Psalm 68:4-7; Psalm 68:10-11; Hebrews 12:18-19; Hebrews 12:23-24
As usual, the context of the passage of Luke’s Gospel, as well as the different allusions we can perceive in it, are vital to grasp all its implications and dimensions. We must take into account the place and time of the event described. Jesus has been invited to a meal at the house of a Pharisee, one whose high social standing we must assume because of the guests’ desire to take the “places of honor.” As to the time, it is a Sabbath. We know that for observant Jews, the laws of sabbatical rest take precedence over Jesus’ performing of any healing, always resulting in trouble and disputations. That explains the description of the guests surrounding Jesus: “the people there were observing him [Jesus] carefully” (14:1). This simple sentence anticipates what will follow (and what the Lectionary omits): Jesus’ healing of a man suffering from dropsy that gives rise to one of the customary disputes about the observance of the Sabbath.
But Jesus, in turn, is also observing the guests and the moves they make in order to take the places of honor, those closest to the host, thus showing their importance. Meals in Israel, as in the rest of the Middle East and the Roman world, were an occasion for hosts to show off their wealth, generosity … and their ability to invite important people, who in turn, would invite them back. Meals also became an opportunity to do business, to promote social and commercial links. In this context of reciprocity, Jesus has something to say. At first sight, we might think that today’s Gospel is, more or less, a simple, practical application of the rules of behavior outlined in the first reading. Jesus’ words connect, of course, with the teaching of Ben Sirach. The Old Testament writer emphasizes the need to recognize our own shortcomings and to pay heed to the wisdom of the old proverbs. Jesus would be acting as a rabbi who explained an old sapiential text, and his approach would be that of a master telling a short parable to explain how, in practical terms, putting ourselves in an inferior place can be more profitable than overestimating our importance.
But Jesus is speaking about something deeper and more serious than a mere strategy to promote one’s self either at a banquet or generally in social life. The words Jesus addressed to the guests could also present a parallel with the way in which he understood and performed his mission as the Son of Man, who “did not come to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Not only that, but we can imagine a glimpse of Paul’s hymn in Philippians 2:5-11, where we find that process of self-humiliation as the model to be followed by Christians themselves.
Jesus’ words are addressed now to the host (and in a roundabout way, to the guests too): do not invite those who will invite you, do not let hospitality become an exchange of favors. That is how the children of this world act; they do good to those who do good to them. In contrast with the way the world functions, Jesus insists upon a different attitude on the part of those who want to enter the way of the Kingdom: “It shall not be so among you” (Mark 10:43). His message is an invitation to imitate, instead, our Father in heaven, “for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36). The following parable (Luke 14:15-24, omitted from the Lectionary readings), also uses a banquet as an example and sign of God’s generosity to “the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame.”
It would be naïve to fix our attention exclusively on a teaching of humility addressed to the disciples who follow Jesus, remaining in the realm of practical behavior in order to lead the austere life of a believer. What this passage conveys is, as I said, a deeper lesson about the way in which we Christians should approach life. Valid as the advice we find in the passage from Sirach may be, Jesus’ words reveal a new style, utterly different from that of the Old Testament. The passage from Hebrews illuminates this point, as the author contraposes the scenery of Mount Sinai (“blazing fire, gloomy darkness and storm and trumpet blast”), with Christians approaching the New Covenant accomplished through Jesus’ “sprinkled blood.”
Just a suggestion that you may consider too general, but that will allow you to have a look at the basic guidelines of your life: compare the manner in which people in our society act (with ambition and greed; in search of pleasure and comfort; with a desire for power…) with those that determine your own life. To what extent do you follow an “alternative path,” that which Jesus followed, that of humble self-denial and service to God and others?
Let us pray for ourselves, Christians engaged in community or parish life: that we may be granted a spirt of service and solidarity that reflects the life-style of Jesus, who, although he was rich, became poor for us; that we may also renounce our selfish desires and work for those who live in poverty, abandonment, or suffer in any way in their mind or body.
Who are “the cripple, the poor and blind” in your limited, personal world? Who are those who live or feel despised, discriminated against or ignored? Try to take a step to make someone feel accepted, appreciated, considered as worthy of respect. A phone-call, a visit, an invitation could be one small but meaningful sign of Jesus’ own invitation to share in the life of the Kingdom.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón,Roman Catholic priest,Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain