God's door is open to allSunday Mass Readings Podcast of Readings Video Reflections Lecturas y Comentarios Sunday Readings Bible StudyPrayer of the HoursBurning Question: Do you invite the poor to your banquet?
Sunday Readings for Aug. 29, 2010 (22C)
By Fr. Alex McAllister SDS
Jesus goes for a meal to the house of a leading Pharisee and as it says in the text, they watched him closely. We know quite well that they were very suspicious of Jesus; they couldn’t make him out and they wondered what his real purpose was.
His every word and action, his very integrity, could be interpreted as a reproach to them and so they constantly watched looking for ways to trip him up. And of course we know the rest of the story.
But the Pharisees weren’t the only ones doing the watching that day. Jesus was doing quite a bit of watching himself, observing their behaviour, watching to see how they interacted with one another.
He noticed how the Pharisees were very concerned with hierarchy and how they claimed the places of honour at the table. And so in the light of their behaviour he told them the famous parable of the man who claimed the highest place only to find himself humiliated when his host asked him make way for a more important guest.
This was a very provocative thing for Jesus to do. It certainly wasn’t very polite and I am certain that his host was quite insulted especially when Jesus went on to say that he should have invited the poor, crippled and lame rather than these well-off guests who would be obliged to repay him in turn.
Politeness is important but it is not as important as the Gospel message. And these Pharisees weren’t getting the point of Jesus’ preaching so we can imagine that he decides to tell them this parable and risk their wrath only hoping that at least some of them will get the point.
And the point is that in the Kingdom of heaven there are no privileged guests. God is quite indiscriminate in his welcome. His door is open to all.
Now this is quite a radical message. The Pharisees, and I guess most of us too, tend to believe that God distributes his rewards on the basis of merit.
Coming to mass every Sunday takes quite a bit of effort, it’s a big sacrifice—though once you get into the routine it’s not so bad. And we quite often find ourselves thinking that even if we are a bit mean and underhand in other areas of life then God will compensate us because we have gone to mass every Sunday (almost) for our three score years and ten.
I am just taking mass going as one obvious example, but there are plenty of others: saying one’s prayers for instance, not speaking ill of others, remaining honest when those around you are on the take, etc, etc. And these are all good things and there is nothing to be said against any of them. In fact, they are all highly recommended if not essential for the life of a Christian!
The problem is the constant temptation to see these things in terms of payment, in terms of the brownie-point system of getting to heaven, in terms of earning one’s way through the pearly gates.
It’s an awful easy mistake to make. And it is but a small step from there to the sin of pride which is assuming that I am of more merit than the other. After all, I am a Catholic, I go to mass, I keep the commandments, I give to charity, and I do all kinds of other things to help others therefore I ought get into heaven. While the unbelieving and mean old sinner down the road is left out in the cold.
But this is not the way God works. In real terms, and by that we mean in terms of eternity, every single person on this planet is valued as a redeemed child of God. Christ came to save us all, not just some, not especially Catholics or even Christians but all people. Yes, there will be a judgement. But it will be made not by us but by the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-forgiving God of love.
What we have been given is the privilege of serving God in a special way as servants of his Gospel. This is nothing we have earned because of any special merit or talent on our part. We have been invited by Almighty God to proclaim the Gospel of love and to worship him through the sacraments Christ instituted.
The fact that we take up this invitation is nothing out of the ordinary; it is simply what we ought to do. Now this invitation is given not only to us but to the whole world. The fact that so few take up this offer ought not to cause us to adversely judge the others. There may be all kinds of reasons; they did not hear this invitation clearly, there were justified obstacles in the way, and so on.
The simple fact is we have heard the call of God and we have responded to it. Our reaction then is not to say how marvellous we are—no, we have simply done our duty. Flattering ourselves would be clean contrary to the Gospel message and would certainly undermine the integrity of the task we have undertaken.
Flattering ourselves for proclaiming the Gospel would be imitating the Pharisees, the one group Jesus singles out for most condemnation.
On the other hand the group that Jesus marks out for special attention is the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. He is often to be found in their company and he showers his love and attention on them and brings them healing and comfort.
The values of the Kingdom of God are clean contrary to the values of this world. Jesus certainly meets with the rich and powerful but he gives them a hard time because they are so slow to understand his message, they are so preoccupied with their own importance.
But he also spends an equal amount of time with the poor and the weak. Because they have a better sense of their position in relation to others he encourages them and does what he can to affirm them. We only have to think of the words of the Beatitudes to realise this.
We are Christ’s disciples in the world. Just like Peter and James and John and the others we did nothing to merit the call of God. We cannot even penetrate the reasons why God might have chosen us. But the simple fact is we have been given this privileged task and our job is to get on with it.
So let us leave all our other preoccupations behind and look to the lives of the Apostles as examples for us to follow. Let’s forget all about position and favour and self-importance and just single-mindedly get on with the job of an Apostle and leave everything else up to him who is the sole judge and Lord of all.