By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
First Reading: Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Response: Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11; Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a; Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14
The Lectionary takes us back once again into Old Testament Wisdom Literature. Recently, we encountered this type of literature in the Wisdom of Solomon and in Ecclesiastes. Today, we turn to the longest of these books, Sirach. The full title is The Book of Wisdom of Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira (Sirach). This was a late 3rd or early 2nd century B.C. guidebook for Jewish young men. The subject of today’s selection extolls the virtue of humility to correspond to the same theme in the gospel reading of this Sunday. By giving us this chopped up reading, the Lectionary deprives us of Sirach’s disdain for higher education. Let’s look at a few omitted examples. “Do not try to understand things that are too difficult for you….” Tell that to our professors. A better piece of advice, “Concentrate on what has been assigned to you….” Back to less-good advice to students, “You have no need to worry over mysteries. Do not meddle in matters beyond you. What you have been taught already exceeds the scope of the human mind.” Out goes intellectual curiosity.
Back to our reading. Sirach addresses a student, “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.” Sirach seems to presume that the giver of gifts is one who enjoys publicity leading to pride. Jesus had this to say about gift-giving in the Sermon on the Mountain, Matthew 6:1, 3-4, “When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you…. Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is giving. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Sirach continues, teaching that the more distinguished people are, the greater must be their humility. Then, a compliment to a wise man who appreciates folk wisdom, “The mind of a sage appreciates proverbs.” The author concludes with a motivation for almsgiving, “Water quenches fire, and alms atone for sins.”
The theme of almsgiving in the first reading determined the selection of Psalm 68 as a response. The verses selected emphasize the poor and needy. The people’s response summarizes, “God, in your goodness you have made a home for the poor.” God is called “Father of orphans. Defender of widows.” Their care was left to God, for there was no social security safety net. God however does not rain his care out of the sky. We are God’s hands, God’s wallet and God’s heart. “He leads forth prisoners to prosperity.” One thinks of the unjustly imprisoned, whose innocence is proved, for whom God through government compensation compensates for years lost behind bars.
In a series of second readings from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author has used argument after argument to persuade a group of Christian Jews to remain true to their conversion to Christ. In the immediately preceding context, he warned his readers that unfaithfulness is punished. Example: Esau sold his rights as firstborn son for a simple meal. Though he later pleaded to get it back, it was too late. Don’t follow his example. In the reading for this Sunday, he emphasizes the imperfect and transitory nature of Old Covenant forms of worship to which they were attracted. He reminds them of the terrors of the inauguration of the Old Covenant at Mt. Sinai — blazing fire, gloomy darkness, storms, trumpet blasts and a voice so terrorizing that those present at Sinai begged to not hear it. Compare that, he says, with the New Covenant — the city of the living God; a festive gathering of countless angels; an assembly of the faithful already enrolled in heaven; God the Judge present along with Jesus mediating the New Covenant. Finally, the author compares the blood of the murdered Abel with the blood of Christ. The blood of Abel cried out for vengeance. The blood of Christ speaks more eloquently. It gives access to God (See Hebrews 10:19).
Jesus was invited to dine at the home of an important Pharisee on a Sabbath. The use of the word “Pharisee” here need not be understood in the entirely negative connotation our gospels often have given it. They were people who lived according the laws of the Torah and the oral traditions developed from it. Even though our gospels generally depict the Pharisees as Jesus’ enemies or, at least, his critics, he had friends among them who protected him from political foes (See Luke 13:31). When Jesus entered the house, he was aware that he was being watched. But why? Our gospel reading omits the reason for them watching and, therefore, misses the reason for Jesus lecturing them in the rest of the reading. He noticed in front of him a man with severe edema. Recall that it was a Sabbath. Work was forbidden on the day of rest, and that included the art of healing. So he asked, “Is it lawful to cure someone on the Sabbath, or not?” No answer. He cured the man and sent him away. He reminded them that if a child or one’s animal falls into a well on a Sabbath, immediate rescue was acceptable. That was the first lecture. Not a word in response. What follows this introduction may have precluded future invitations of Jesus to this household.
He noticed that people were choosing the places of honor at the table. A second lecture. When invited to a wedding banquet, “Do not recline at table in the places of honor.” Someone more distinguished may be invited. Then the host may tell you to move, to “give place to this man.” That would be embarrassing. Take the lowest place instead. When the host of the banquet enters, he will say to you, “Friend, move on up,” and all will see you honored. This tells us that mere human motivation for the practice of humility is acceptable. Jesus quotes a proverb, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Thus, a lesson in humility, which was anticipated in today’s first reading from Sirach. Here, Luke sees an opportunity for another catechetical lesson — outreach to the poor and the handicapped. This is a major theme of his gospel, as it was of Jesus’ ministry. So Jesus gives a third lecture, this time to his host. “When you give a banquet, don’t invite friends and family, so that they will in turn invite you, but invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” The reward? “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”