Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
- Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24
- Luke 14:1, 7-14
The readings for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary time provide us with a perfect image of our intended disposition during the liturgy. To be humble in Christ is to be poor in spirit, and it is only the poor in spirit that see in the Mass the Kingdom of God. For, there is something unfathomable about God that only the poor; that is, those who know that they are nothing, can taste. This is why people who cannot identify with poverty have such a difficult time accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because no matter how much wealth, intellectually prowess, or physical might one may have, it means nothing to the God who gives not according to what we have, but according to what we need. Yet, those who believe they need nothing also include God in their prideful calculation.
The intellectual pridefulness and the neediness to seek the answers to everything found in the Hellenistic philosophy and culture around 200 BC is the backdrop of Ben Sira’s societal conflict in today’s readings from Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29. For Ben Sira, it was not through the means of self-determination that we receive the most; rather, it is through the poverty of humility that we gain what we could not have received on our own. A perfect image of what happens during the liturgy at the ‘Breaking of the Bread’, while the People have humbly fallen to their knees, singing or saying aloud the ‘Angus Dei’ is encapsulated in Sirach 3:20 that reads, “For great is the might of the Lord, he is glorified by the humble.”
Truly the mysteries of God are far beyond our mere comprehension. The greatest minds among us have tried. Yet, at the moment of consecration at the Mass, everything that even the great insights that the doctors and great spiritual writers of our own Church have offered all fold upon themselves like sugar immersed into boiling water.
Our second reading from Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24 point to this reality of the Holy Mass, saying, “You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them. No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” Yes, you would do well to keep this second reading on your mind as your process to receive communion today.
In the Gospel reading today from Luke 14:1, 7-14 contains the story of Jesus offering a parable about how those who humble themselves to choose the lower place at the banquet position themselves to be exalted by the host, while those who pridefully choose the higher place at the banquet position themselves to be humbled by the host.
What is missed from this selection of readings today is what happened when Jesus first arrived at the house of this leader of the Pharisees. In Luke 14:2-6 we learn that it was a Sabbath day when this dinner to which Jesus had been invited was being held. Of course, the Pharisees were watching Him “and behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy.” The text says that Jesus “took him [this crippled man] and healed him, and let him go.” Ah, now the readings for today have greater context. The contrast here that Luke is recalling is between the invited guests who were choosing places of honor before men, versus the uninvited guest, the man with dropsy, who choose to place himself before Christ. This is why Jesus instructed his host, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” This too is an image of the Mass. For, which one among you dares to offer to the Lord a greater feast than His memorial sacrifice?
Together, these readings at the Holy Mass this Sunday point to a principal lesson of the liturgy. The liturgy intends to form and shape us into a humble people so that we might worthily receive the one thing that we can never earn in this life, but is also the one thing that we were created to receive.
Which one among you do not yet realize that you are the person who Jesus instructed His host to invite to their banquets. Again, He said, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” That is us at the Holy Mass. We are the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. During the Offering Rite, we are the poor widow from Mark’s Gospel who gave out of her poverty two very small copper coins. For, we too bring all that we have to offer the Lord to the Mass; namely, our very life. Whenever we knell, we become the crippled man who couldn’t stand on his own and needed Jesus to raise him up. At every point during the liturgy where the Priest begs God for our forgiveness, we confess that we are lame and in need of the type of healing that only the Holy Eucharist can provide. And whenever we behold the Holy Eucharist, we confess that we are truly blind and cannot see what God can see; for, were He to come to us in the light of His glory, we would have to shield our eyes from being burned. Rather, He humbly comes to us in the manner that we can perceive Him so that we might receive Him.
This is how the liturgy is teaching us how to be poor in spirit so that we might see the Kingdom of God.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.