In today’s Gospel reading we see people vying for places of honor.
Jesus, however, challenges us to do just the opposite: to seek the “lowest place.” While many in the world compete for worldly prestige and honor, Jesus is asking Christians to outdo one another in the practice of true humility. Real honor comes from seeking the glory of God, not the praise of men. We know from our experience that the honors of this world are fleeting. The trophy, the new position, the praise from your boss, and the time visiting with a famous person will not fulfill us. They ultimately are just smoke that will blow away and leave us only hungering for more. And when we seek recognition from others or go out of our way to draw attention to ourselves, our quest for worldly glory distracts us from finding our true identity and fulfillment in life which come from God alone. If we seek the “lowest place” with sincerity, however, we will have more room for God in our hearts. God will see our humility and bless us. He also will give us the ultimate reward—a place in his presence forever.
Unpack the First Reading
The biblical book that we just call “Sirach” is a collection of wisdom sayings by a Jewish sage named Yeshua Ben Sirach, written as many as three centuries before Christ. It was used in the early Christian Church as a moral catechesis for those seeking Baptism. In this passage, Ben Sirach counsels us on the importance of humility, which, as regards its place in the spiritual life, St. Jean Vianney compared to the chain of the rosary, holding everything else together. This counsel comes after that in the first two chapters on fear of the Lord and then the first part of the present chapter which encourages the honoring of mother and father. Humility or meekness, then, seems to represent the foundational disposition that sums up the foregoing counsels to wisdom, to honor God and our parents. And the search for wisdom herself, too, requires that one recognize the limitations of a finite creature before the infinite God.
Unpack the Second Reading
Recall from earlier commentaries that Hebrews is likely addressed to those Jews who are struggling with a temptation to return to the practice of Mosaic Judaism. Here the author makes a comparison between the events that surrounded the making of the Mosaic covenant on Mount Sinai—“and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled” (see Exodus 19:16-21)—with the covenant that Jesus made with us on the hill of Calvary on the Mount of Jerusalem. This new covenant, made not in the blood of bulls but in the blood of Christ, gives us access to the true Mount Zion above, in heaven. Zion was the hill of the Temple and the place where Israel worshiped and so it represented Israel at its Mosaic best.
But Jesus is now in the heavenly Temple surrounded by all the angels and saints leading us invisibly in the perfect; “withwhich we should offer worship pleasing to God in reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28) that only he can offer. Though that liturgy above is invisible, faith, which is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, RVS), gives us a kind of vision of that Temple and its liturgy, which, unlike the Jerusalem Temple which fell in 70 A.D.: “we who are receiving the unshakable kingdom should have gratitude” (Hebrews 12:28). The appeal the author of Hebrews makes to these former Jews is that faith must keep us true to Christ and to the covenant of love he forms with us.
Unpack the Gospel
Luke’s Gospel makes a primary theme of table fellowship. In this chapter, Jesus is attending a dinner and then gives two lessons, one to the invited guests and one to the host of the dinner who had invited them, about how to dine in the kingdom and then tells a parable about a rich landowner and the banquet he throws. In each case the lesson is that the humble are favored in this kingdom that Jesus announces. Those who have some status should seek the lowest place at table, he says. As St. Paul says—echoing his Lord—“Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation” (Romans 12:16).
Those who host should invite the lowly who cannot repay, so that God can repay. This is a common Old Testament and rabbinical theme, that God pays the debts of the poor, compensating those who give alms. Lastly, in the verses following those in our reading, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who follows a very different pattern of hospitality and throws a party inviting his own class of people, none of whom accepts his invitation. So he sends his servants to bring in “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:21). When his house is still not full he asks that everyone his servants can find be pressed to come, finishing with the phrase, “For, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner” (Luke 14:24).
The common interpretation of this parable is that those like Jesus’ host, a Pharisee who is described as “observing” Jesus, ostensibly to catch him in some infraction of the Law, will find their covenant invitations pulled and their places given to lowly covenant outsiders who will respond better to the compulsion of God’s grace and enter the heavenly banquet. So, in the kingdom of God being an “A-list” invitee is less important than giving a generous response to the graces we receive, whenever they come.
Discuss & Reflect
Please watch today’s Opening the Word presenter, Fr. John Riley, on FORMED.org as he explains this week’s Gospel reading and discusses what true humility is and why Jesus calls his disciples to humble themselves. Reflect on these questions with a friend:
In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells the disciples not to seek places of honor and to take the lowest place at the table. This is very contrary to human nature and our natural desire for affirmation, acceptance, prestige, and power. According to the presenter, who uses the example of Mary? What does it truly mean to be humble? How does true humility reveal one’s greatness, and why?
In the Gospel reading, Jesus encourages us not to seek out situations where we can draw praise and attention to ourselves, but to “take the lowest place.” What are some ways we can put this into practice? In other words, how might we seek out taking a “lower place” in our families, workplace, parish, or communities?
Reprinted from Opening the Word Leader Guide with permission from Augustine Institute.