Deacon Cornellís Homily

Readings:   

Sirach 3: 17-18,20,28-29
Hebrews 12:19-19,22-24a
Luke 14: 1,7-14

Date:

August 28-29, 2010, Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Reciprocity. That is one of those words that is fun to say. In social anthropology, reciprocity describes the exchange of gifts and services in a culture. Some cultures emphasize reciprocity more than others, like the Japanese, but all human interactions reflect some level of reciprocity. I have a neighbor who is pretty focused on reciprocity. Fixing a faulty WiFi hotspot, scanning a picture for her, or helping to clear her driveway when her husband is out of town during a snow storm is sure to result in a plate of cookies or some chocolates or some other little gift. We've talked about it and I tried to explain to her that if good Christians are going to try to follow Jesus' advice in the last part of today's Gospel reading, there have to be people willing to be on the receiving end of acts done without thought of return. So far my arguments have not prevailed!

Some people take todayís Gospel as a practical lesson in party-going etiquette from Jesus. But this is not just a little etiquette tip from Jesus; it is a parable. As I have said many times, Jesus used parables to shake people up a little so that the parable could draw them into a deeper truth. Todayís parable is no exception. This section of Lukeís Gospel is a series of insights into the nature of the kingdom of God. With todayís parable and his teaching that follows it, Jesus focuses on the complete gratuitousness of the kingdom. No one can earn their way into it; it is an outright gift from God. The notion of people sitting according to rank was deeply ingrained in the culture of Jesusí time. The Pharisees and scribes felt they deserved the best seats because they had earned them by studying the Law and putting it into practice and teaching it. They would often show up late to a dinner so that they might be escorted by the host to the places of honor. They projected this notion of earned rewards onto God and Godís kingdom. Jesus is telling them, and us, that thatís not how it is.

Unfortunately we havenít learned much in the 2,000 years since Jesus told this parable. For the most part, we still pretty much think of the kingdom of God as something that we have to earn our way into. Jesus makes it quite clear: the kingdom of God is a gift from God, pure, gratuitous gift. No one can earn it. All we can do is prepare ourselves for it, and respond to it as we receive it. Jesus uses humility as his symbol because humility is not something we can "work at". The very idea of trying to be humble means we are not humble. Humility is a by-product of thinking about ourselves in the truest, clearest way, and then acting out of that understanding. When we do that others can recognize humility in us. In the same way, entering into the kingdom of God is a by-product of living in response to the gift of love God gives us.

So entry into the kingdom of God is a pure gift from God. But that does not mean that we have no responsibility in this. The second part of today's reading goes straight to that point. Like any gift of love, true love, God's love cannot be earned; but it does invite a response. Our ability to respond in ways that give thanks and praise to God and that give love to others is only possible because God loves us first. When we say that God, or anyone, loves us unconditionally, that does not mean that we are then "free" to respond (or not respond) in any old way. You parents know what I am talking about. A true loving parent loves his or her child unconditionally. No matter how that child responds, you will continue to love him or her. But that love invites a proper response, one that acknowledges the love received, and pays it forward. Almost any one can recognize this proper response and when it is missing.

Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is a free and pure gift from God. But in order to enjoy that gift, to enter into that kingdom, we must imitate this God in whose image we are made. We have to stop thinking that salvation or heaven or the kingdom of God is something we have to earn points to enter. We need to be humble, acting out of the image of God we are made in. Just as God loves us and gifts us without counting the cost or the prospect of getting something back, so we must do the same.

In practical terms, this means feeding those who are hungry, clothing the naked,, sheltering those who are homeless because until those basic needs are taken care of, a person cannot start preparing to receive the kingdom. It means offering an ear to listen to those who are isolated and lonely, being a shoulder to cry on to those who are in mourning, lending an encouraging word or hand to those who are struggling, helping give voice to those who are invisible. In our culture, it means cutting through all the busyness and consumerism that blinds us to who we truly are, and who those around us truly are. And above all, it means we need to stop judging others because in that very act we cease to be humble, and that makes us unprepared for the kingdom.

By responding properly to God's free and unconditional gift of love, Jesus tells us, we become righteous - not self-righteous, but righteous - which means we are in right relationship with God, with others and with ourselves. When we are in right relationship with God and with others and with ourselves then we don't have to worry about earning our way into the kingdom; we are already there.

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