September 2, 2007
ORDINARY 22 (C)
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. – Luke 14: 11
Jesus was invited to this banquet so He could be observed & examined. Typically, he turned the tables & made His host & the other guests the object of scrutiny. Actually, He is playing a mirror game: holding them all up to a mirror so that they can see themselves as He sees them. Social stratification is the back drop & social climbing is the agenda. He sees them as caught in games of hypocrisy & social posturing – they are far from the Kingdom.
They desire esteem in the eyes of others & Jesus has some very clever ideas about how to achieve it. He has an inventive strategy about feigning lower to gain higher. Maybe they should play humble in the hope of winning big in front of everyone.
The problem with this is that it leaves their motivational structure, inherited from the culture, intact. But His overall style is to challenge cultural assumptions. He seldom complies with them. No, He is trying to catch them in their own thinking, to make visible to them their own underlying driving forces. If they swallow His off-the-wall strategy, even for a moment, the humor of their ambitions & the pathetic deceits they are capable of may break through to them. Laughing at ourselves, you see, is more than therapeutic. It is the first step toward conversion & genuine humility.
Unfortunately, they fail to see themselves. So he tries one more time with the story of the great dinner in which those invited are so preoccupied with their own concerns that they cannot accept the invitation. I think there is a bit of Pharisee in all of us. Realizing that we are in prison is the first step to getting out. When we recognize the mental & spiritual straightjackets we have created, we can address our condition. But if we are unaware of what is controlling our actions & causing our emotional lives to either soar or crash, we are victims of these unconscious influences. When asked why her fictional characters were so grotesque, Flannery O’Connor replied they were necessary for the blind to see, i.e., most people are blind to the assumptions that drive them.
St. Paul says we have to put off & also put on some things through an act of will. “But now you must put them all away,” he says, “anger, fury, malice, slander, & obscene language out of your mouths. Stop lying to one another … (Col. 3: 8-9). Again, “Put on then, … , heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, & patience, bearing with one another & forgiving one another (Col. 3: 12-13). Such advice is not a new form of legalism in which we are going to do these things to be righteous so that God will reward us. It is a roadmap to real freedom. But before we can appreciate that, we have to perceive the falseness of the assumptions we’ve inherited from our culture & our fallen nature. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to laugh at ourselves. AMEN !