Sunday Sermon for August 28, 2022, the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a; Lk 14:1, 7-14
In the first reading, Sirach tells us to conduct our affairs with humility. This is certainly sound advice because no one likes to deal with someone who is pompous and arrogant. However, this is not the reason Sirach gives. Instead, he says that the one who humbles himself will be loved more than a giver of gifts. A giver of gifts tends to be a very popular person, but often they are loved for what they do, not for who they are. Those who are humble, on the other hand, are loved for who they are because it is their humility that draws people to them rather than any external attributes.
Humility, as we know, is also an essential virtue for growth in the spiritual life, but even for life in general. Humility and charity are intrinsically linked: the height of one’s charity is equal to the depth of one’s humility. Since love of God and love of neighbor should be the outstanding (although normative) characteristics of a Christian person, this love is predicated on humility being present first.
We can look at what St. Paul presents to us in the second reading and apply the same principle to every other aspect of our lives. In this reading, St. Paul contrasts the old and the new covenants by addressing the differences in the dispositions the people have regarding the mountains where the respective covenants were made.
In the old covenant, made on Mount Sinai, the people were not allowed to touch the mountain under pain of death. When God spoke, the people were terrified and begged not to hear God’s voice again. The mountain was wreathed in smoke, there were flashes of lightening and peals of thunder that made the people feel afraid.
Contrast this with what took place on the mountain where Jesus was crucified, the mountain to which Jesus referred when He said that when He was lifted up from the earth, He would draw all people to Himself. St. Paul goes on to speak of more than just the mountain near Jerusalem. Rather, He speaks of the Heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, countless angels, the assembly of the firstborn, to God Himself, and to Jesus as the Mediator of the New Covenant.
In the Old Testament, the people were not allowed to go near the mountain where God revealed Himself to Moses and the people. Now, we can not only go near the mountain where the New Testament was inaugurated, but we can draw near to Heaven itself. The only way to draw near is to go through Calvary, which is on the mountain near Jerusalem.
The old covenant was written on stone and was external to the people. The new covenant is written in our hearts, so it is spiritual and intrinsic. So, we do not need to go to Jerusalem or to Mount Zion; instead, we can enter spiritually into the Passion of our Lord which is the way to the Heavenly Jerusalem. Does anyone think himself or herself to be worthy of such as gift? By nature, we should stay a long distance from the holy mountain where our Lord was crucified. By nature, and because of our sins, we know we have no right to approach the Heavenly Jerusalem.
This is why humility is so critical for us. Who are we that we should even be invited to come to our Lord? Who are we that we should be part of this new covenant? Who are we that we should think that we could go to Heaven? None of this is our own doing; it is all a gift from God. Our Lord did, and continues to do, exactly what He taught in today’s Gospel: He gave a banquet and invited those who were not expected and who could not repay Him.
If, in our pride, we try to suggest that we are somehow worthy to be invited to our Lord’s banquet, or we think ourselves better than someone else at the banquet, the Master will assign us to a lower place (or maybe not even let us in). Already He has called us up to a higher place than we deserve, but the choice of which seat we should occupy is His. If we arrogantly try to take a seat that is higher than the Lord has determined, we will be humbled by being assigned to a lower spot.
The Lord’s banquet is all about charity. The one who loves the most receives the highest spot. This means the one who is the most humble receives the highest place at the banquet. Pray for humility because it is the only way to charity. With true humility and charity, our Lord will say: “Friend, move up to a higher position.”
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.