President Abraham Lincoln once got caught up in a situation where he wanted to please a politician, so he issued a command to transfer certain regiments. When the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, received the order, he refused to carry it out. He said that the President was a fool. Lincoln was told what Stanton had said, and he replied, "If Stanton said I'm a fool, then I must be, for he is nearly always right. I'll see for myself." As the two men talked, the President quickly realized that his decision was a serious mistake, and without hesitation he withdrew it.
In this morning’s Gospel we find two parables. The first is about being a good guest and the other one is about being a good host. The first parable is not advice on how to get oneself exalted: pretend to be humble so one’s host will call attention to the guest. The reading from Sirach shows that the essence of humility is not phony self-abasement, but rather knowing oneself well: “what is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength search not” (13:20). Know one’s limits, and one’s strengths, and act accordingly. The second part of the gospel develops an important biblical theme found both in Sirach and in the responsorial psalm. Jesus counsels the well-to-do Pharisee to use his resources, not for dinner parties for the rich and famous, but for “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” who cannot repay. The psalm further develops this tradition of care for the needy. First, care of the needy is acting in a Godlike way, for God is known as the “father of orphans and the defender of widows,” that is, God cares for the most economically and socially vulnerable members of the community. The last verse of the psalm reminds the people that they themselves were on the receiving end of God’s kindness when God provided for them a home, or to use other images from the psalm, when God gave a pasture to his flock and water to a languishing land. All these images speak of human poverty and divine generosity. Even now, we will be guests at the messianic banquet only because of God’s generosity. We are the poor guests unable to repay the generous host. The dining image is crucial, for at a banquet, host and guest sit at the same table. Christian hospitality is not condescension towards the “other”: it welcomes the other into the community.
As we gather this evening/morning we participate in the banquet in which Christ speaks about in today’s Gospel. Here we are gathered in all different aspects of life. Among us we are single, we are married, we are divorced we are young, we are old, we are rich, we are poor, we are sick, we are healthy but all of us are one body in Christ. No matter what we don’t have a special place of honor and we come to partake the feast of all feasts. Here we come around the table to participate in the most important meal we will have today. We all come up to participate in receiving our Lord and for those that feel they are not prepared to receive because of whatever circumstance are still welcomed up to receive God’s blessing.
In my homily last week I touched upon the sin of social injustice. I would like to elaborate more on that point. Do we welcome the guests among us such as the “poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” to our banquet? Of course I’m not encouraging you to go out there and invite perfect strangers from the streets into your home. This would not be a prudent action and you could put yourself at risk but we should find ways to invite them to the banquet. What can we do to serve those in need? One possibility is helping financially an organization that serves those in needs such as New Hampshire Catholic Charities. Giving our time to a place that helps those in need such as the sunshine soup kitchen that is located down street at the Baptist church and serve a meal every night or volunteer at Birthright in which helps young women who have made their mistakes but want to keep their child.
We could also be more vocalized when it comes to the decisions our government has made, decisions that are unjust. It’s wonderful that we speak against abortion and there is a huge gathering in January in Washington, D.C. to protest against this unjust act but where are the voices for those people that don’t have any food on their tables? Where are the voices for the children that continue to be abused? Where are the voices on the elderly couple that has to choose between taking their medications or eating? These are some of the areas that we are called to leave our seats of honor, to be humble and to serve. I think that the earlier story that I shared with you about Abraham Lincoln. Here is a man that was the president of a country but he in humility realized that he could be wrong and he would listen to someone he didn’t necessarily have to do.
St. Augustine speaking on humility reminds us that “the path of humility, which he himself became for us. He showed us that path by his precepts and he himself followed it by his suffering on our behalf ...yes he have us the path of humility. If we keep to it we shall confess our belief in the Lord and have good reason to sing: We shall praise you, God, we shall praise you and call upon your name.”
My dear brothers and sisters, let us never imagine that we are better than someone else but to imitate that humility as St. Augustine stated that Christ took who was divine to come and be one like us and to serve, let us also serve God who “is the defender of orphans and defender of widows.”
Living Liturgy, p. 203