22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 1, 2019.
Sir 3:17-18,20,28-29; Heb 12:18-19,22-24; Lk 14:1,7-14
Taking the lowest place like Jesus
“When you are invited, go and take the lowest place.”
What exactly is the lowest place in the banquet that Jesus asks us to choose? Do we become humble simply by choosing this lowest place and avoiding places of honor? We all know that it is indeed possible to take the lowest place in a public gathering and still feel proud about our “humble” gesture. It is also possible to choose the lowest place while secretly coveting the places of honor. So this “lowest place” cannot be merely about choosing a particular sitting position in social gatherings.
Indeed to take the lowest place is to humble ourselves just like Jesus did and to do so with His own motive. By virtue of the Incarnation, Jesus is the one who indeed freely chose the lowest place in the Kingdom of the Father that He came to establish, “Though He was in the form of God.., He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance.”(Phil 2:6-7) We cannot think of taking a lower place than God taking the form of His human creatures.
Jesus also humbled Himself for the purpose of communicating divine live to us, “Believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”(Jn 20:31) The old covenant with its terrifying epiphanies is replaced by Jesus drawing us to the Father with confidence and love, “You have approached God the judge of all…, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.” In and through Jesus Christ, humility has become life-giving and life-communicating, the means whereby we receive and communicate divine blessings to others. Pride remains the way of death and darkness.
We might deduce from Jesus’ parable about choosing the lowest place in the wedding banquet that humility is meant to prevent us from public embarrassment, “Then you will proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place.” But when we begin to see the wedding banquet as symbolic of the kingdom of God, we see that humility is what allows us to enter into the kingdom of God offered to us by Jesus and to remain in the kingdom till the very end. We can never accept the kingdom and abide in it forever without participating in the humility of Jesus Christ, “Unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”(Mt 18:3)
We must accept the invitation to God’s kingdom with humility, without claiming the right to anything but willingly accepting all that God offers to us. Instead of proudly “choosing the places of honor,” we see our calling to be God’s children as a gift that we respond to by conducting ourselves as “unprofitable servants who have only done what we were obliged to do.”(Lk 17:10)
But our response to this invitation also demands that we selflessly extend God’s invitation to others no matter their condition in life or their ability to repay us, “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” We invite them not because of what we can get from them but simply because we want to communicate to them the divine blessings that we have received. Selfless charity is impossible without cultivating this Christ-like humility and the kingdom of God is impossible without loving others like Christ did, “Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me.”(Mt 25:40)
How then can we begin to choose the lowest place just like Jesus did? St. Paul gives us a huge pointer, “In the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption.”(Gal 4:4-5) Jesus began His humble existence in and through Mary at the moment of the Annunciation. Mary freely chose to accept God’s invitation and humbled herself to take the lowest place so as to bring the Author of life into this world, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.”(Lk 1:38)
Jesus matured in His humility through His relationship with Mary throughout His life, “Jesus was obedient to His parents.”(Lk 2:51) He ended His earthly life by lying lifeless in her arms at the foot of the cross. Mary has thus become the living mold wherein souls are formed and molded in the pattern of Christ’s own humility. When we begin to have a real relationship with Mary we give her a chance to form us into her spiritual children who strive to take the lowest place in imitation of Jesus Christ.
What are the signs that we are being formed by Mary to take the lowest place in the way that Jesus did? First, Mary draws us into true relationship with God as His children through our deep childlike prayer and fruitful action. With the aid of Mary as our mother, prayer must bear fruit in action, “Do whatever He tells you.”(Jn 2:5) As we grow in our knowledge of God through our prayer and actions, we know and accept the truth about ourselves and thus grow in humility.
Secondly, like our earthly mothers who taught us how to speak and act, Mary begins to teach us the language and attitudes of the truly humble. Here are some examples: We say, “Thank you, God” always, because we see all things as gifts from God and not as something due to us. We say, “Help me, God” always because we realize that we can do nothing on our own. We say, “Forgive me” to God and to others because we realize both our nothingness and our sinfulness. We say, “I forgive you” to those who offend us because we realize that they too are weak and sinful like us. We say, “God, here I am to serve and obey you at all costs,” because we refuse to live for our own glory and comfort. We say, “I trust in you God,” always because we refuse to place any trust in ourselves but in God alone.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, pride is hardening many hearts in our world today, bringing nothing but death and darkness. Remember, the “wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Rom 6:23) Pride is at the root of all sin and the obstacle to receiving the gift of new life. We see this stronghold of pride in the spirit of bad competition and usurping of rights that are prevalent today. Because we fail to be humble and grateful for what we have, we compete with others easily, envying them and trying to deny them what is their due because we always want more and we want it all for ourselves. We cannot find peace in seeing the good in others. Only the humility of belonging to God as His children allows us to see that God’s gifts are not meant to foster bad competition with others but to help others attain the temporal and eternal goods of the kingdom of God.
In our pride, we also usurp rights that strictly speaking belong to God alone. We usurp the right to determine good and evil, we usurp the right to life when we take and destroy human life in the womb in the name of abortion, we usurp the right to determine our own genders, etc. We claim all these non-existent rights because we have simply failed to see all as God’s gifts to us.
What is God’s response to the hardness of hearts in our world today? He still desires to bring life and hope into this world but He will only do so through humble souls i.e. through those who would be humble like Jesus and Mary, those who would live in the honest truth of who they are before God. God cannot fill us with His gifts when we are so full of ourselves and obsessed with our own excellence.
We receive in this Eucharist Jesus who responds even now to the Father’s call to humbly mediate God’s blessings to us through the humble signs of bread and wine. Just as He chose the lowest place in His relationship of loving dependence on Mary, We too can humble ourselves through our relationship with Mary and choose the lowest place for one purpose alone – to receive God’s life and bring it into this proud and dark world.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!