Skip to comments.Gospel of Humility - Pontifical Household Preacher comments on Luke 14:1, 7-14
Posted on 09/01/2007 5:58:02 AM PDT by NYer
ROME, AUG. 31, 2007 (<A href="http://www.zenit.org">Zenit.org</A>).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from this Sunday's liturgy.
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Be Modest in What You Do!
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 3:19-21, 30-31; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a; Luke 14:1, 7-14
The beginning of this Sunday's Gospel helps us to correct a widely diffused prejudice: "One Sabbath when he went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him." Reading the Gospel from a certain angle we have ended up making the Pharisees the prototype for all vices: hypocrisy, duplicity, falsity; Jesus' enemies par excellence. The terms "Pharisee" and "Pharisaical" have entered into the vocabulary of many languages with negative connotations.
Such an idea of the Pharisees is not correct. There were certainly many among them who corresponded to this negative image and it is with these that Jesus has serious problems. But not all of them were like this. Nicodemus, who comes to see Jesus one night and who later defended him before the Sanhedrin, was a Pharisee (cf. John 3:1; 7:50ff.). Saul was a Pharisee before his conversion and was certainly a sincere and zealous person then, if misguided. Gamaliel, who defended the apostles before the Sanhedrin, was a Pharisee (cf. Acts 5:34ff.).
Jesus' relationships with the Pharisees were not only conflictual. They often shared the same convictions, such as faith in the resurrection of the dead and the love of God and neighbor as the first and most important commandment of the law. Some, as we see in Sunday's Gospel, even invited Jesus to dinner at their house. Today there is agreement that the Pharisees did not want Jesus to be condemned as much as their rival sect, the Sadducees, who belonged to Jerusalem's priestly caste.
For all these reasons, it would be a very good thing to stop using the terms "Pharisee" and "Pharisaical" in a disparaging way. This would also help dialogue with the Jews who recall with great respect the role played by the Pharisees in their history, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem.
During the dinner that Sabbath, Jesus taught two important things: one directed to those who were invited and the other to their host. To the host Jesus says (perhaps privately or only in the presence of his disciples): "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors ..." This is what Jesus himself did when he invited the poor, the afflicted, the meek, the hungry, the persecuted -- the persons named in the beatitudes -- to the great banquet of the kingdom.
But this time I would like to focus on what Jesus says to the invitees. "When you are invited to a wedding feast, do not take a place of honor ..." Jesus does not intend to give a lesson in good manners here. Neither does he wish to encourage the subtle calculation of those who take a lower place with the secret hope of gaining a more honorable place from the host. The parable could deceive us if we do not think about the banquet and the host that Jesus has in mind. The banquet is the most universal one of the kingdom and God is the host.
In life, Jesus wants to say, Choose the last place, try to work more for the benefit of others than for your own benefit. Be modest in evaluating your merits, allow others to do this instead ("No one is a good judge of his own case"), and already in this life God will lift you up. He will lift you up in his grace; he will make you rise in the ranks of Jesus' friends and true disciples, which is the only thing that really matters.
He will also exalt you in the esteem of others. It is a surprising fact but a true one: It is not only God who "comes to the humble but holds the proud at a distance" (cf. Psalm 107:6); men do the same, whether or not they are believers. Modesty, when it is sincere and not affected, conquers, makes those who practice it loved, makes their company desirable, their opinion appreciated. True glory flees from those who seek it and seeks those who flee from it.
We live in a society that has an extreme need to hear this Gospel message of humility again. Running to take the first seats, perhaps without scruple using others as steppingstones, being opportunistic and viciously competitive -- these are things that are universally condemned but, unfortunately, they are also universally practiced. The Gospel has an impact on society, even when it speaks of humility and modesty.
Jesus was the consummate teacher. He was always looking for ways to instruct His disciples how to live out the brand new life of a disciple transformed by the grace of God, the life of one redeemed by Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.
Occasionally, He would masterfully craft a story like the one about the prodigal son that perfectly explains a crucial aspect of the Good News such as the approach of His Heavenly Father to a repentant sinner. At other times, Jesus would take a real life event and turn it into a powerful teaching moment, like with the woman caught in the act of adultery. On other occasions, Jesus would offer a combination of the two. This week's Gospel passage from Luke is an example of this last method.
Our Lord finds Himself at the house of a leading Pharisee for a dinner party. Seeing people jockeying for positions of honor at the table, He decides it is time to teach the guests about the virtue of humility by telling a parable. Jesus seizes the moment and calls His disciples to begin the arduous process of growing in humility.
Humility is arguably one of the most important virtues. A virtue is a quality of the soul that enables one to do the right thing in specific circumstances with a certain quickness, ease and joyfulness. A virtue flows from deep inside a person, from his or her character. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus invites people to grow, develop and change. This process often begins with a simple encounter with Christ.
It is very important to note that Jesus encourages the dinner guests to do humble things: "go and take the lowest place" and "the one who humbles himself will be exalted, and "when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled..." Jesus is teaching us that one of the most significant aspects of developing a virtue is to consistently, intentionally, prayerfully and humbly perform virtuous acts. The repetition of humble acts combined with God's guidance and grace leads to the development of the virtue of humility. The Catechism says, "Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace. With God's help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of the good" (CCC, No. 1810).
Humility is important because it images Christ and defeats pride. Pride is at the heart of all sin because it was critical to the first sin, the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Humility is incredibly attractive. We all recognize it and deeply appreciate it when we run across someone who is truly humble. It is quite helpful to the spread of the Gospel because it lends authenticity to the message of a disciple of Christ. The very character of a humble person makes you want to listen to what they have to say about what is dear to them. A proud and haughty teacher or preacher, on the other hand, turns people off and makes it doubly hard to listen to a message that already is difficult to embrace.
An everyday dinner party with rather predictable behavior among the guests became a teaching opportunity for Jesus. He tells a parable and teaches a captive audience about the critical Christian virtue of humility. I suppose the host had recently changed Jesus' seat before he was regaled by the Teacher. May we have the strength and grace to humble ourselves so that one day the Lord Himself will exalt us.
Excellent thoughts from Fr. Cantalamessa, as always.
thank you for the post
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