The opening anecdote for this homily was given by Kerin Coughlin, who was scheduled to read at this Mass but is not feeling well. So let me just thank her and hope that she feels better.
At bible study last week, Kerin told us that Billy Joel will buy out the front row seats at his concerts to prevent rich people from taking them – not to hear him, but to be seen by everyone. Then he will send his managers up to the cheap seats and get real fans who would pay attention to the performance. Jesus’ motivation today is rather similar.
We first need a bit of archeology. Houses in Galilee in Jesus’ time would have been centered on a courtyard. The main door was in the center of the courtyard, and the kitchen, storage rooms and bedrooms would have been off of it. Guests would have been entertained and fed in this courtyard. Jesus had most likely spoken at a local synagogue and now was being entertained by a leading pharisee who had the space to hold a dinner for the town’s notables This would have been a major event and the common people of the village would have crowded around the front door to see who was there and what Jesus might say. They may perhaps have heard that he had often been in conflict with some of the Pharisees and looked forward to some fireworks.
This was a very stratified society, and you “were” where you sat. The problem then, as now, is that some people who consider themselves important will come at the last minute and expect to be taken to the best seats. This can cause great embarrassment for some and amusement for others.
It does not, however, focus the attention on Jesus’ performance, his preaching, and his wonderworking. Luke shows this with his typical economy of style. In the section before this, there is a man suffering from dropsy: retaining water in the leg. He has managed to get into the house and Jesus sees him and asks if it would be lawful to cure him on the sabbath. Some Pharisees would have said, of course, he could, others, of course, he could not. Jesus, of course,courseim but in effect asks both those in and outside the courtyard “what did you see”, “to what were you paying attention”? Did they even see the sick man? If he registered at all it was as an embarrassing legal problem not as a child of God. Far more interesting to everyone was who was being seated and where. How many people were even aware that a miracle had taken place. I think Billy Joel would understand,
Jesus’ audience both in and outside the courtyard missed a great opportunity. After Jesus gives a bit of advice on how to maintain one’s dignity and position in a small peasant community he gets to the heart of the message: “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Lk 14:13). Those who you think can offer you nothing in return. Jesus is focusing on the problem of humanitarianism. The sick and the poor are often made to feel as if they are merely recipients of the generosity of the hail and the hearty, the rich, and prosperous. They themselves may believe that they can offer nothing in return. Jesus is telling everyone the opposite. The poor and disadvantaged give as much as they get.
They give us a sense of God’s love for us; a small and usually fleeting insight into the overflowing nature of Divine love. This is often an insight we do not want but it is necessary, but misfortunes have become so common that their victims are invisible. Do I see the homeless on the subway? My major concern is now my own safety. Do I see the difficulties of the food insure who come to our parish for staples and produce? There are so many occasions that it is easy to become numb to all of them.
So let us take one
We have been told and perhaps seen on a screen people mostly from Columbia and Venezuela who after legally applying for asylum are packed onto buses and sent to New York. Many are given the address of Catholic Charities of Brooklyn as their new home; Catholic Charities was needless to say not informed in advance. It would be easy to shake our heads, make a snide political comment and drink our morning coffee. Keeping them essentially invisible.
But we do not have to. We have been given the opportunity to make them welcome here in our parish tomorrow. To see them as people. There will be an announcement about the practicalities at the end of Mass so let me focus on the gospel. This is what Jesus meant when he said “blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Lk 14:14)
We can offer Jesus nothing. No matter who we think we are, the poorest beggar has more to offer us than we have to offer Jesus. The greatest mystery of all is why God loves us so passionately, so indiscriminately. When we help those who cannot help us in return, we get a insight into Jesus’ love for us. God sees each one of us. My most fervent prayer is that I truly see everyone in the room that Jesus does. I usually fail and need more opportunities to develop my vision. So do you.
There will be many opportunities. We are only at the beginning of increased homelessness, and we all know what food and medicine cost. Promise yourself that we will see those who we are called to assist as sisters and brothers priceless in God’s sight and equal in dignity to ourselves. When we see the person behind the needs, we will know how Jesus sees us.