Sirach 3:7-18, 20, 28-29
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Luke 14:1, 7-14 [126C]
The readings for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time speak to the cost of discipleship. The challenge lies in weighing and covering the cost against all the other pressing commitments in one’s life.
The readings for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time warn of the dangers of self-exaltation and of the importance of humility. Jesus and the wisdom traditions of Israel placed a high value on the virtue of humility in all that we do and say as a believing community.
The first reading is taken from the Book of Sirach, also known as “The Wisdom of Ben Sira” or “Ecclesiasticus.” Originally written in Hebrew around 200 BC, this text was translated into Greek in the year 117 BC by the grandson of Joshua ben Sira. The commonly used title of the book, “Sirach,” comes from the Greek form of the original author’s name. Today’s reading is taken from the book’s largest section (Sir 1–43), where much of the wisdom material focuses on moral instruction. In particular, today we hear about the importance of humility. Not only does this Jewish sage encourage others to “conduct your affairs with humility,” he challenges those in positions of authority and power to “humble yourself the more.” According to Sirach, the virtue of humility is cultivated when one discerns the wisdom of the ages (“appreciates proverbs”) and listens to others with “an attentive ear.”
The Gospel reading is the parable of the invited guests and is found only in the Gospel of Luke. The setting of the parable is significant: Jesus was invited on a Sabbath to the home of “one of the leading Pharisees” for dinner. In other words, this was a dinner party for the religious and social elites of Jesus’ day. Being invited to such a gathering would have been considered a privilege. As the other invited guests arrived and sat in places of honor at table, Jesus used this occasion to tell the group a parable he saw applicable to the cultural norms at work in the social interactions around the table. The parable contained a twofold message. The first has to do with the prudence of humility in public arenas. To avoid potential embarrassment, it is best to let others—especially the host—exalt you by giving you a seat of honor (“a higher position”) at the dinner table. In fact, one of the marks of true humility is to allow others to define where you rank within their social circles.
This first message sets the stage for the second message of the parable, which Jesus directed to the host of the dinner party (a “leading Pharisee”). Jesus challenged the Pharisee (and by association the other religious leaders at table with him) to invite not their relatives, friends, or wealthy neighbors to the next banquet, but rather invite the socially marginalized in their midst, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Jesus taught them that in doing so, they would receive divine blessing and be “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” In a culture that placed high value on the social norm of reciprocity, Jesus’ words likely seemed absurd to many of them, at least initially. But Jesus still applied the principle of reciprocity to the banquet—he simply invited his Pharisaic host to seek repayment from God rather than neighbor or relative. Jesus’ second message was profound: God himself repays the generous host for those unable because of their station or lot in life.
The second reading is once again taken from Hebrews. The author contrasts the experiences of Moses and the Israelites in the desert who encountered God in fear and trembling with those who now experience God through the person of the crucified and resurrected Christ. We can be assured that Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant,” brings us face-to-face with God almighty. All believers are called by Christ to gather at the heavenly banquet that awaits us.
Daniel J. Scholz