Sirach 3, 17-20 and 29-29
- My son, conduct your affairs with humility. All the ancient religions teach reserve toward our own self-esteem.
This set of sayings is loosely connected, and I will treat each one as self-contained.
- Humble yourself the more, and you will find favor with God. These counsels can guide us to success in our social intercourse; that is true. But Ben Sira had God in his sights. God’s
favor is what should count for us. So I will stress the second half of each couplet.
- What is too sublime for you, think not. We have been trained to explore and understand everything around us – even the deepest secrets of
the universe and of the human race. So should I repeat this saying tongue in
cheek? Or do I believe sincerely that God is always beyond our rational searching,
pointing the way ahead of us? Let me ponder all the horrible outcomes of our
careful (and careless) planning efforts. Doesn’t our faith teach us that
we may reduce the threats to our world (e.g. nuclear war or global warming) more by humility than by engineering?
- The mind of a sage appreciates proverbs. I should take my time with this reading. The first time through,
most of my listeners will reject it outright or relegate it to ancient folklore. We
are in an age of facts. We re-invent our world.
Ben Sira might make 5 miles per hour seated on a camel; what did he know? We
would identify more with the Ptolemies, the movers and shakers of their day, than with their Jewish subjects seated all day
in the synagogue. It is time for me to go back to my Shakespeare or Pope –
or the Gospels – for timeless wisdom.
- Finally, Alms atone for sins. We are a church that honors its tradition. It was born of
tradition. For a moment I feel the union of Christians, Jews and Muslims around
this saying. Let me savor it and at once pray for closer understanding.
- Central point: God acts humbly toward us. We will imitate God if we also live in humility toward ourselves and others.
- Message for our assembly: What can we learn from those who went
- I will challenge myself: To confront our own mentality with that of
Hebrews 12, 18-19 and 22-24
- You have not approached… So the reading begins. The first half reminds me of the awesome
signs that accompanied the covenant of God with Moses and the people. The second
half recalls the wonderful work of God through Jesus, which is the inheritance of the “Hebrews” and our own inheritance.
- The images pile upon one another: blazing fire, gloomy darkness, storm and trumpet blast and above all that other-worldly
voice. We have seen The Ten Commandments so many times that these stage effects no longer stir us.
Israel went to the mountain to meet its God, the wholly Other who had delivered
them. I am rehearsing not so much for shock effect as for a sense of the Other,
the Holy, into whose presence we have come.
- Now begins the climb of Mount Zion. As I get closer to the holy city of the living
God, my voice should grow in intensity, though not in loudness. Let the images
build upon each other, reinforce each other: heavenly Jerusalem, angels in festal gathering, assembly of the firstborn, God the judge.
- Last and highest in order is Jesus the mediator. As I say his name I feel a sense of relief. We have arrived. It is not an illusion. This is our calling.
- The sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently. It reminds me of the blood that Moses sprinkled on the people, and the blood of Christ poured out for “so
many.” I should feel it falling on myself and our assembly as I speak.
- Climax: You have approached Mount Zion.
- The message for our assembly: What kind of longings do these images stir in us?
- I will challenge myself: To project a downward trajectory in the first half, like jagged lightning
strikes, and an angelic uplifting for the second half (as Dante wrote in his Paradiso).
Luke 14, 1 and 7-14
- On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees. We continue
to hear wise advice for our earthly and heavenly aims.
- They were choosing the places of honor at the table. There is an obvious connection in Luke with our Eucharistic table. Let me remind the congregation.
- Do not recline at table in the place of honor. I myself don’t normally go to the main table at banquets, and so I identify with the advice. But it goes against the human inclination of most of my listeners. I want to make them hear. I will rehearse the line, emphasizing
“honor”until it becomes provocative for them.
- A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited. What could that mean for us today? When
the photographer comes around to our table don’t we bunch together in a spirit of equality? We have forgotten to show deference.
- When you are invited, go and take the lowest place. I will speak the advice in a positive way. After
all, we are more likely to find Jesus there.
- When you hold a lunch or a dinner … invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. Now it becomes
more challenging for me. Would I do this?
In fact, I don’t! How do I make my reading credible to others? I have to let it judge me, as if I said I would eat my words. That will take a lot of rehearsing. If I succeed, then my
listeners will also take it seriously.
- You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Once again the Jewish, Christian and Muslim spirituality speak as one. May we appreciate each other’s faith and the ways we express it in action!
- Climax: The one who humbles himself will be exalted.
- Message for our assembly: What is our inclination at these events? Do
we seek honor or just convenience? How can we become excited about a Sunday gathering,
the way we do for a family wedding?
- I will challenge myself: To use my voice to turn a routine saying, so obvious to everyone, into a startling invitation
to discover Christ the stranger among us.
From Word to Eucharist: Can
we identify with the early Christians as we hear these images repeated? Or have
they lost their power to hold our attention in the electronic age? Do we enter
the procession with impoverished minds or with a longing that no earthly food can satisfy?