Date: Sunday, August 28, 2022
On Friday, I visited a lady at Hospice. She was sound asleep. I talked with her daughter and son-in-law. The daughter showed me a beautiful photo of her mom taken while on a recent vacation. She was sitting outside and reading the Book of Proverbs. Her mom remarked that she felt so peaceful and happy. The Book of Proverbs is part of the Wisdom Literature in the Bible. Among these books are Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach, our first reading today. Jesus Ben Sira, the author of Sirach, is a sage or wisdom teacher writing around 180 BC to Jews who, in their search for a full life, are being influenced by Greek culture and philosophy. Jesus Ben Sira urges them to rely on the wisdom that Israel has learned from its long relationship with God that is passed down orally and is part of their Jewish heritage. A truly wise person listens attentively. “The mind of a sage appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the joy of the wise.”
It is generational. Jesus Ben Sira counsels his son to conduct his affairs with humility. “Humility” comes from “humus” – the earth. It is living with our feet on the ground and maintaining a proper perspective. Humility is akin to and associated with the virtues of honesty, gentleness, courtesy, and consideration. It is not puffing oneself up or putting oneself down.
Our first reading prepares us for the Gospel. Jesus has been invited to the home of a leading Pharisee on a Sabbath. Those at dinner are watching him and Jesus is watching them choosing places of honor. Jesus knows Jewish wisdom in the Book of Proverbs and alludes to chapter 25 verses 6 & 7 as he speaks to the guests, “Claim no honor in the king’s presence, nor occupy the place of great men; for it is better that you be told, ‘Come up closer!’ than you be humbled before the prince.” Next Jesus addresses his host and suggests that he should expand his guest list to include those less fortunate who will not be able to reciprocate and repay him with a nice meal.
Jesus is not Miss Manners concerned about proper table etiquette. Some of the pharisees at dinner look askance at Jesus’ association with public sinners and those considered unclean, unwelcomed, unworthy to dine with them. Jesus is speaking about God inviting them to the heavenly banquet, the Messianic feast. The pharisees, and righteous folk like us, may think that we deserve a place of honor for keeping the Commandments. But like the outcasts and sinners associated with Jesus, we must learn that salvation is not something we achieve or accomplish. Salvation, eternal life, is God’s gift to us.
When Jesus urges his host to invite those often left out and uninvited to dinner, Jesus is telling us that our invitation to the heavenly banquet depends on our acceptance and empathy of others. If humility is key for guests, hospitality is key for the host. Humility helps us better appreciate the needs, desires, and struggles of the people around us. As we take our attention off what we think we deserve or what we think makes us look good, we stop trying to claim recognition for ourselves. That makes us better able to treat others with respect and opens us to the love God wants to flow between us. There is a curious dynamic between the virtues of humility and hospitality – the more you give it away, the more it comes back to you.