At the beginning of the summer the priests of the diocese held a dinner for Bishop Di Marzio’s 75th birthday. The committee that organized it sat the priests according to year of ordination with the most newly ordained priests and the most senior sitting with the Bishop. Truly an elegant solution to a potentially difficult situation. Yet isn’t it interesting that it is a persistent problem. Eating together is such a sign of intimacy and harmony that the Bible uses it as an image of the kingdom of God yet so often it reflects people’s attempts to assert power and position. Luke today is showing us what is at stake and what we can do
This is the third time that Jesus has accepted an invitation to eat with Pharisees on the Sabbath in Luke’s gospel. (See Luke 7:36, 11:37) It did not go well either time and it presumably will not be particularly pleasant this time out. The passage today opens with:
On a sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. (Lk 14:1)
They were so carefully observing him because previously he cured people at the meal on the Sabbath. This was a violation of Jewish law. This is also the case here, but our reading today skips over it. Let us for a moment however examine this passage
A man, presumably a guest, is suffering from dropsy. This is edema or swelling caused by excess fluid. As this is a chronic condition and not an emergency, Jesus could have told him to come back the next day to be cured but instead he cures him immediately. Celebrating a meal with Jesus cures and frees anyone humble enough to ask. Luke may be so specific with the disease because dropsy is often occasioned by great thirst and so the victim will drink more water which only makes it worse. It was used as a metaphor for greed, in this case the insatiable desire of the Pharisees for honor and position. Would they ask to be healed or even know that they needed it?
Thus, the parable Jesus tells us in his world – even more than now – you were not what you ate as much as where you sat when you were eating it. This was precisely calibrated. Also, as now, those who deemed themselves of great importance would often try to make an entrance by arriving fashionably late. This might force someone already seated to move. Jesus’s suggestion to his hearers to take a place further down to avoid embarrassment may seem on first reading to be a clever but not particularly religious strategy, but note the line which follows:
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk 14:11).
This recalls the line from last week’s reading:
For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last (Lk 13:30).
Which in turn reflects Mary’s Magnificat at the beginning of Luke’s gospel:
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; (Luke 1:48)
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly (Luke 52)
Lest we fail to hear the message, Luke will tell us further on of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee was proud, but the collector humble. Jesus said of them: “the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18:14).
That is a lesson for all. The next lines are for leaders. There is always the temptation to seek out those who are most prominent. What would give you the most prestige: entertaining the richest person in the community or the holiest? What would we receive for inviting the socially invisible to a dinner party from the other guests: congratulation, criticism or perhaps at best bewilderment?
Remember that Jesus said at the commencement of his formal ministry, that the Holy Spirit of the Lord has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free (Lk 4:18). And when John the Baptist sent messengers to see who Jesus was and what he was about Jesus told them: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. (Lk 7:22).
It is not that the elite know and follow him but that the invisible have been raised up to sight that matters to Jesus.
To include what we have come to call the marginalized in our community is to literally follow the example of Christ. This inclusion is meant to heal. Perhaps not curing diseases, but restoring people to spiritual and social wholeness. Thus, Jesus offers a blessing on those who accept the task: indeed, will you be (blessed) because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”( Lk 14:14).
Have we not seen so often recently the power of division and loneliness? Indeed, his is exploited for political and financial gain. Building up the base has made us base, and as we have seen just this week major companies knowingly – at very least ignored – opioid addictions for profit.
We may not be able to cure blindness or deafness, but it is our purpose to address loneliness and alienation that have made so many of us spiritually blind and morally indifferent? This week we have also seen another act of mass murder. Would anyone be surprised if it were discovered that once more it was a young, male loner, disaffected and adrift?
Jesus told us to Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. Lk 6:36. He is speaking to us as individuals and as a community, and we can judge our community not by who it seats where, but who it heals now.
A NOTE ON THOMAS AQUINAS AND HUMILITY:
A link was provided in Saturday’s “First Reading” to Aristotle’s comments on Humility (http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.4.iv.html) (Book 4, especially chapter 3). St. Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval theologian,sought to learn from Aristotle and examined his works carefully. Their world views were different in many ways, but St. Thomas maintained a dialogue with Aristotle by recognizing what were the substantial differences, and what were differences in emphasis.
The Philosopher (Aristotle) intended to treat of virtues as directed to civic life, wherein the subjection of one man to another is defined according to the ordinance of the law, and consequently is a matter of legal justice. But humility, considered as a special virtue, regards chiefly the subjection of man to God, for Whose sake he humbles himself by subjecting himself to others. (Summa Theologica II-II q.161 a1 ad 5 resp.)
In this context, Humility means seeing ourselves as God sees us: knowing every good we have comes from Him as pure gift. Pride in the usual sense for Aquinas is virtually ridiculous: the proper emotional response is feeling honored. Yet the question remains how should someone greatly honored by God with great gifts act in the world. This Aristotle calls the “great souled person” who is called to act with magnanimity. Aquinas sees an important insight in this idea and pursues it:
There is in man something great which he possesses through the gift of God; and something defective which accrues to him through the weakness of nature. Accordingly magnanimity makes a man deem himself worthy of great things in consideration of the gifts he holds from God: thus if his soul is endowed with great virtue, magnanimity makes him tend to perfect works of virtue; and the same is to be said of the use of any other good, such as science or external fortune. On the other hand, humility makes a man think little of himself in consideration of his own deficiency, and magnanimity makes him despise others in so far as they fall away from God’s gifts: since he does not think so much of others as to do anything wrong for their sake. Yet humility makes us honour others and esteem them better than ourselves, in so far as we see some of God’s gifts in them. Hence it is written of the just man (Ps. 14:4): In his sight a vile person is contemned which indicates the contempt of magnanimity, but he honoureth them that fear the Lord, which points to the reverential bearing of humility. It is therefore evident that magnanimity and humility are not contrary to one another, although they seem to tend in contrary directions, because they proceed according to different considerations.(Summa Theologica II-II q129 a.3 resp)
I am uncertain if Aristotle would accept that this is what he meant, but I am very certain that this is what I want for all of us.
The other homilists are out this week relieving other priests so they could have vacations. In order to provide an option, I have two suggestions:
Bishop Robert Baron’s homily this week is quite interesting. Although I think it might be better suited to next week’s Gospel, he develops the themes of this Sunday’s Gospel in way totally different from mine.
He makes use of the spiritual method of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatian Spirituality is quite profound and enlightening. The website “Pray as you go” employs many Ignatian methods and the reflection for today (Sunday, September 1) is particularly profound. It centers on the second reading of the Mass from The Letter to the Hebrews (12:18-24) and is well worth hearing.
Let me know if you would be interested in exploring this style of prayer.
Pope Francis and the Mess of the Now
Perhaps because he has had such an influence on my life, Fr. Robert Lauder and I were both struck by a recent article on Catholic Social Teaching and Pope Francis.
Lauder’s article: https://thetablet.org/pope-francis-vision/
It was written by Charles Camosy from Fordham University and published in the July 22nd issue of America Magazine. The events of the last 6 months have been so confusing that I think we need theological guidance on how to interpret them. I have arranged for a few speakers for the Fall, but even with professionals finding a coherent way into this mess will be difficult,
Please read the article if you have a chance and let me know what you think about his argument. Does it help you understand how a Catholic should approach the present times?