22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C
How do you respond to an invitation? When you are invited, how do you feel? Invitations come in different forms, shapes and sizes. Some invitations are simple though sweet. Some are too attractive that at times you forget why you’re being invited in the first place. Some are too formal that right from the moment you receive the invitation, you think about what clothes to wear or what the formal gathering would require. But no matter what and how the invitation is presented to us, the most important thing is not how we’re invited but how WE RESPOND to the invitation. In fact, an invitation is not a COMMAND, it is a CHOICE.
Here’s an example of a funny and yet very appealing wedding invitation from an Indian couple:
Indian Wedding Invitation Card
The text below the invitation reads:
Do you think, we will keep these promises? Maybe we will, or maybe we decide not to. Whatever the case, we require your esteemed presence with family to bless us on the auspicious occasion of our wedding reception.
If you look more closely at the last part of the invitation, there is a bit of reservation whether they can keep their promises or not. After the seemingly hard to fulfill promises, above anything else they chose HUMILITY – a virtue which starts at the initial admission of their own weaknesses, which may or could break their promises.
Such is the main theme of this Sunday’s Readings: CHOOSING HUMILITY. Take note, it’s not just humility, the active word “choosing” is very important. We have to be humble not only in our mind, but in our heart as well. In our first reading from the Book of Sirach, a humble person is described as “a person who knows his/her limits; someone who doesn’t seek what is too sublime; and someone who is great and whose greatness is measured in his/her capacity to remain humble and simple.” Let me explain this further through our Gospel reading this Sunday, which principally has two parts:
1. First Part. The first part of the Gospel is addressed to those who were invited. He asks those invited not to choose the “seat of honor.” By choosing the seat of honor, the guest simply reveals his/her own importance in the event. Jesus warns them to be careful for they could be embarrassed once somebody more honorable than them would arrive and therefore be asked to be seated at the lowest place. Contrary to what invited guests would normally do, He urges them rather to wait for the host to bring them up a higher place or position. In other words, to choose the lowest seat. Honor is given by the host to someone, who seeks humility and chooses to be seated at a lower place.
Mother Teresa was once asked, "How do you measure the success of your work?" She thought about the question and gave her interviewer a puzzled look, and said, "I don't remember that the Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love. This is the only success that really counts."
I think Mother Teresa would point to this story in Luke’s gospel today to justify that response. Jesus instructs us in today’s gospel not to do things that bring us the honor of men. Instead, we are to do things for which God will honor us with His personal invitation.
2. Second Part. The second part of the Gospel is addressed to those who have the privilege of being a host. If you are a host/hostess who will you invite? Of course, we will invite people whom we know, people who are in our circle. Nevertheless, in an unconventional way, Jesus urges his disciples to invite those who are outside their circle. “Outside” meaning beyond our comfort zones especially those people who are marginalized, the poor, the crippled, the oppressed, those who are grieving and are having difficulty overcoming their grief. But why? Because as the Gospel relates, these are the people who are unable to repay us as they don’t have the resources to do so. If you choose this path, however, you will be repaid in the resurrection of the just. Hence, choosing humility is our way to the Father.
Now, allow me to relate this interesting story about Pope Francis, the principal host of the universal Church. Some might have heard this already, but it’s good to share this with you:
A few days ago, at dawn, the time the Pope wakes up, he came out to the corridor, and he found in front of his door the sentry, a Swiss Guard standing with his halberd at attention.
He asked him: “And what are you doing here? Have you been up all night?”
"Yes," replied the guard with deference and a bit surprised.
"On your feet?"
"Your Holiness, my duty since I took over from my companion."
"And aren’t you tired?"
"It’s my duty Your Holiness; I should watch for your safety."
Pope Francis looked at him again with kindness, went back to his suite and after a minute he came out carrying a chair: "At least sit down and rest."
The guard rolled his eyes and answered: “Santo Padre, forgive me, but I cannot! The regulations do not allow that."
"Orders from my captain, Your Holiness."
The Pope smiled, "Oh, really? Well, I'm the Pope and I order you to sit down."
So, caught between the regulations and the Pope, the Swiss Guard (so much for the halberd) chose the chair.
The Pope returned to his apartment.
After a couple of minutes, the Pope came back to the Swiss Guard, still obediently seated on the chair, carrying “panino con marmellata” (Italian bread with jam) which he had prepared. Before the soldier could say anything, the Holy Father, exhibiting his Argentinean smile, told the Swiss Guard, “With all the hours spent standing on guard you must be a bit hungry.” The Swiss Guard had no time to object because the Pope right away wished him a good bite: "Bon appetit, brother."
I think this story explains the very thought of this Sunday’s theme: CHOOSING HUMILITY. Just like Pope Francis, as leader (host) of the universal Church, he showed as an example of what it means to choose humility … to become ONE with his subjects without necessarily giving up his position of honor. He invited someone whom he thought was tired and hungry. He invited someone who may be out of the circle and yet part of the community we call the Church.
Each day God invites us to far greater things that need our attention, such as, healing, forgiveness, charity, kindness, and the list goes on and on. Question is, what is your response?