Aug. 28, 2022
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalm 68:4-7, 10-11
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Luke 14:1, 7-14
A parable for guests and a parable for hosts, this Sunday’s Gospel would make for an unconventional forward to “The Butler’s Guide to Running the Home and Other Graces.”
In the first parable (“illustration,” “proverb”), Jesus advises guests to choose not the place of honor, but “the lowest place.” (Luke 14:10) In the second, he advises hosts to invite not friends, relatives and wealthy neighbors to their banquets, but “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” (Luke 14:13)
The first seems, ironically, to have made its way deep into the Catholic psyche. “Good Catholics always sit at the back.” Whether or not humility underpins this trend is debatable, but maybe we can get an “A” for effort. The second is more perennially challenging. To begin one’s wedding guest list with those marginalized by society rather than with “influencers,” friends and family would still be a challenging prospect for most.
And yet this is how our Lord invites us to be inclined: to the lowest place, and with the humblest friends. Both inclinations are entry points to the wisdom and treasure of God’s upside-down kingdom. Though their practice may win the esteem of your companions if they themselves are worth their salt, worldly esteem is not the point of practicing them. Their reward, rather, will be realized “at the resurrection of the righteous,” (Luke 14:14) when love will be the only solvent currency that remains.
Biblical theologian Brant Pitre points out an interesting passage from Chapter 7 of “The Rule of Saint Benedict” in which Benedict takes Christ’s promise that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted,” (Luke 14:11) and proposes a 12-step ladder of humility and discipline to help his monks climb to the heights of true exaltation in Christ. Pitre calls it the first “12-Step” program, designed for those of us who are addicted not to drugs or alcohol, but to ourselves. That is, perhaps, all of us to varying degrees. The steps are well worth reviewing.
Step 1: Obeying all of God’s commandments. Obviously, but challengingly, this is the starting point for every true disciple of Christ. It lays in the recognition, first rejected by Adam and Eve under the influence of the serpent, that God is God and we are not.
Step 2: Not bothering to please yourself. In other words, don’t take the best cookie in the batch. Don’t take the best seat on the bus. Don’t skip in line at Starbucks. Whatever you are naturally inclined towards, pivot away from it. Take the lowest place.
Step 3: Obedience to your superior. This could be your boss, or your parents if you are still in their care, or even your spouse, as husband and wife mutually die to themselves in service of one another and their children. As long as you are not being ordered to sin, freedom is found in the surrender of your will to the will of your superior.
Step 4: Patient and quiet perseverance of everything inflicted on you. Stop complaining. It is ultimately rooted in pride. Patiently and quietly endure your present affliction. If you’re honest with yourself, you probably deserve much worse.
Step 5: Humble and thorough confession of your sins and faults. The Sacrament of Confession is a wonderfully humbling undertaking. Make regular use of it.
Step 6: Acceptance of crude and harsh tasks. Stop grumbling. It, too, is a form of pride. Clean the toilet. Change the diaper. Volunteer to take the notes at a meeting.
Step 7: Not only confessing that you are inferior but believing it in your heart. Make your humility not just an outward show, but an interior disposition. Recognize the good in others and believe that you still have a long way to go along the path of perfection.
Step 8: Strict observance of a rule of life. Be on time out of respect for others. Hold up your end of the bargain with household chores. Get to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Observing these things faithfully makes a person humble.
Step 9: Practice of silence; only speaking when necessary. Think how much more substantive and peaceful the world would be if people deferred to the power of silence before saying the first thing that popped into their head.
Step 10: Restraint from laughter and frivolity. Laughter can be good medicine, but too much medicine turns it into poison.
Step 11: Speaking few words, simply and seriously. Economy of words is a form of restraint that honors other people’s time and prevents you from becoming a chatter box.
Step 12: Showing humility in your heart and in your appearance and actions. Don’t just think or talk about being humble, but actually put it into practice daily and concretely.
Chances are that more than one rung of that ladder tweaked your conscience. But “the ear that listens to wisdom rejoices.” (Sirach 3:29) May we hear, respond and so rejoice both now and at the eternal wedding feast of heaven.