August 28, 2022 Vacation time – this homily was prepared for this site.
Sirach 3, 17-18, 20, 28-29 + Psalm 68 + Hebrews 12, 18-19, 22-24+ Luke 14, 1 7-14
I am frustrated with what the church gives us today for this Gospel. What frustrates me is the way some committee decided to do some “cut and paste” with these verses. Notice that six verses missing, clipped out for whatever reason, leaving us with a parable from the lips of Jesus without the reason Jesus had for telling it.
In those missing verses, a man has slipped into the banquet who is suffering from what our translators call: “Dropsy.” Whatever that means is beside the point. It’s not good, and his presence there had to put everyone on edge. He would have been considered “unclean”, and his presence in the midst of people who would have scrubbed up to get in there created a very uncomfortable situation. To make matters more complicated, Luke tells us that this is Sabbath day imposing a lot of restrictions.
In the missing verses, Jesus asks several questions of those present about what to do for this man, and Luke tells us that everyone was silent. Their silence is part of the message here because, they know the answer, they know what they should do, and they do nothing and say nothing because they know very well that the law they pretend to obey does permit the saving of a life on the sabbath. All of this leads up to Jesus then using this parable to teach us something about a virtue required of every disciple.
For us there is something even more going on here than just a lesson on humility. Put into a larger context of this chapter, there is something being revealed here by the setting as much as by the wording. In Luke’s Gospel, meals are often the occasion for a revelation, and the meals always have a eucharistic overtone. We have to listen to this story using the image of the eucharist as the setting. Eating with Jesus should always be a time of healing, and as he said once very clearly, it is the sick who need the physician. That man who must have barged his way into that banquet is the very one who most needed to be there, but you can bet that there was no place reserved for someone suffering from “dropsy.”
Through this incident, Jesus has the occasion to reject the whole idea of reciprocity, as well as that custom of inviting people of equal status.
So, if we put back the six missing verses, we have a question raised by the fact that those guests are silent in response to the question Jesus raises. Why are they silent? They know the law because they are watching to see if Jesus will break the law. This incident speaks to many these days who are silent, who know what the law of God requires and remain silent and do nothing when something is required. This incident also continues a theme that has been developing over the past weeks: Who belongs at the heavenly banquet. As the chapter continues, the answer emerges: the humble. It is not humble to keep silent.
In thinking about and measuring my own humility, I often remember something said to me long ago during my seminary formation years. A wise instructor reminded us that the virtue of humility is not thinking that we are nothing special or of no value. Real humility requires gratitude to God for making us all unique and using our unique gifts for the glory of God, not denying or hiding them. Humility is never thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less and thinking of God more.