The Church celebrates Sunday, September 1, 2013 as the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C. The main theme of this day’s Holy Mass is humility. The wise man, in the first reading from Ecclesiasticus tells us that only a humble and patient man or woman can receive God’s blessings because the proud are always too self-centered to think of anyone else. In the second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, the sacred writer urges his Hebrew converts to seek peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one can ever see the Lord. In Saint Luke’s Gospel, Jesus attacks the arrogance and the haughtiness of the religious leaders of his time, who set themselves in the first places, without caring whether they are suitable for such positions or not. He calls on us all to be humble. Brothers and sisters in the Lord, our Saviour is asking us today, more than at any other time, to humble ourselves so as to be exalted in the end. In the course of this Holy Eucharist, let us pray for the grace of humility without which we cannot receive God’s blessings.
My son, be gentle in carrying out your business, and you will be better loved than a lavish giver. The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly, and then you will find favour with the Lord; for great though the power of the Lord is, he accepts the homage of the humble. There is no cure for the proud man’s malady, since an evil growth has taken root in him. The heart of a sensible man will reflect on parables, an attentive ear is the sage’s dream.
V/ The word of the Lord.
R/ Thanks be to God.
The Book of Ben
Sirach is commonly known in Latin as Ecclesiasticus. It was originally written
in Hebrew by an experienced Jewish scholar and teacher, who established a
rabbinic school in Jerusalem
after retiring from his public career as a diplomat. The proper Hebrew name of
the book is “Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach”, abbreviated in Greek to “Sirach”.
Sirach, son of Eleazar, was a well-educated man from an important family in
Jerusalem some forty years before the Greek cultural invasion of Palestine
between the years 220 and 116 BC. Like
the Book of Wisdom, which comes immediately before it, the book of
Ecclesiasticus does not appear in the Hebrew Bible.
disciples were faced with the challenges and dangers of the materialistic Greek
culture introduced when Alexander the Great conquered Palestine and introduced
many political and cultural changes. Commerce and military establishments were
very instrumental in spreading Greek language and culture throughout the
Mediterranean region. This had the effect of opening up channels of dialogue
between the new culture and the teachings of the traditions of Israel.
Ben Sira and the
other teachers of Israel were alarmed at the rate at which the Jewish tradition
was being submerged by the more aggressive Greek culture. Many Jews were
turning their backs on the Law of God and the traditional teaching of Israel to
follow foreign teachers. Ben Sira therefore tried to impart respect for the
traditional Jewish moral values and a deep knowledge and love of the scriptures
as well as practical wisdom. True wisdom, he teaches, resides in an Israel
built around the Torah. Wisdom to him is the “Law of Moses” that humans
perceive and experience personally as “The Fear of God.”
In this passage,
Ben Sira says that our life should be devoted to the pursuit of wisdom because
wisdom is close to God. “The fear of the Lord,” he tells us, “is the beginning
of wisdom.” We gain wisdom by adoring and obeying God’s word. Coming
immediately after the fear of God is the virtue of humility. Only humble and patient men and women open
themselves up to God’s teaching. It is
this lesson of humility that Christ gives the Pharisees in the Saint Luke’s
Gospel message of this day.
As Africans, we
learn from Sirach not to despise the wisdom of our ancestors: respect for the
elderly, respect for common property, etc. If we were paying heed to our
ancestral wisdom, which especially calls for respect for the common good, there
would not be so much corruption and embezzlement of public funds in our
country. Let us pray for the spirit of humility so we too can acquire wisdom
which alone brings us closer to God. Amen.
Second Reading: Hebrews 12: 18-19.22-24What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them. But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator who brings a new covenant.
V/ The word of the Lord.
R/ Thanks be to God.
In the final
part of the Letter to the Hebrews, the sacred writer urges us to seek peace
with all people, and the holiness without which no one can ever see the Lord. He exhorts his listeners to learn from him
that they do not have to be terrified by the thought of meeting God, as the
Israelites were in the desert. The new covenant is one of friendship and love,
because Christ, God’s Son and our brother, is our mediator. The place where
they will meet God is not on Mount Zion but on the Mountain of Jerusalem, with
all their friends and family members who had gone ahead of them marked with a
sign of faith.
writer contrasts two scenes – that of the establishment of the Covenant on
Sinai, and the vision of the heavenly city, the heavenly Jerusalem, the
dwelling place of the angels and saints. The Old Covenant of Moses was nothing
compared to the New Covenant of Christ that brings us the joy and splendour of
the heavenly city. For the Hebrew people Mount Sinai was the most important
symbol of their special attachment to God, the Supreme Judge to whom they owed
total allegiance. Another mountain, the Sinai on which the Temple was built,
represented God’s protective presence in the midst of his people. However, both
Sinai and Zion prefigured the mountain from which the Messiah-King, Christ
Jesus, would reign and towards which all peoples would flock to worship the
true God (Ps 2:6; Is 2:2).
Jerusalem is not only the holy mountain, the source of light and glory of
Yahweh and the city of peace that the prophets of old sang about (Is 8:18, Joel
3:17), but it is now the city where the angels and saints dwell and rejoice. It
is the heavenly and everlasting Jerusalem that Saint John sings about in
Revelation (21: 15-17; 22: 1-5).
What does this
passage tell me as a Christian living in the city of Douala today? It reminds
me that I am, as a Christian, also making my way on this pilgrimage to heaven,
my lasting homeland, a true place of peace. I therefore pray that the Holy Spirit should
strengthen my faith, especially during this year that the Church has dedicated
to our faith, so that I can continue to march to the heavenly Jerusalem without
lifting my eyes off the crucified Lord. With my gaze permanently fixed on the
Lord, I should have no fear of any obstacles or difficulties. Lord, come to my
Gospel: Luke 14:1.7-14On a Sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. He then told the guests a parable, because he had noticed how they picked the places of honour. He said this, “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take your seat in the place of honour. A more distinguished person than you may have been invited, and the person who invited you both may come and say, ‘Give up your place to this man’. And then, to your embarrassment, you would have to go and take the lowest place. No; when you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, ‘My friend, move up higher’. In that way, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.”Then he said to his host, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.”
V/ The Gospel of the Lord.
R/ Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is a guest at the home
of a leading Pharisee. He notices how the invited guests are all scrambling for
places of honour. That provides him with a good opportunity for a lesson on
humility. He tells them that a guest who arrives early for an event and
immediately goes for the seat of honour will have the greatest shock of his
life when someone more important arrives later and the host asks the already
seated guest to cede his seat to the one who has more claim to it. Then the humiliated
guest will have to walk past all the other seats that have been occupied and
shamefully retreat to the back of the room.
Jesus therefore insists that we go for the lowest
place – the place of humility – and be pleasantly surprised when the host
elevates us to a much higher place of honour, probably taken from the arrogant
man who had sat there without being properly ushered in.
Humility is so necessary for salvation that
Jesus uses every opportunity to stress its importance. Here he uses the
attitude of people at a banquet to remind us that it is God who assigns places
at the heavenly banquet. As Saint Jose Maria Escriva de Ballaguer says “It is
not our own efforts that save us and give us life; it is the grace of God. This
is the truth which must never be forgotten” (Christ is passing by, 133).
To choose the right place at the right time is a
true sign of wisdom. This is what the Pharisees never realized being people who
were very fond of rank and honour. Those of them who came first looked for the
first place at the table. Jesus teaches them, and us, another understanding of
the concept of feeling important. One cannot confer honour on oneself, one can
only receive the honour. Only the poor and the humble can be raised. “Blessed
are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Mt 5:3).
Human understanding of importance is not valid
before God. Jesus tells his disciples: “Let the greatest among you be your
servant, for whoever exalts himself shall be humbled and whoever humbles
himself shall be exalted” (Mt 23:11-12). God exalts the lowly. After all, he
humbled himself and became one of us in Jesus Christ.
As Christians, let us therefore learn to be humble in all that we do. Our priority should be the first place to God, the second to our neighbour and the last to us. Christ can only show his love for us when we show love for the least of our brethren (Mt 25:40). Amen.