I have a friend who, when getting together with him, lets me know who he knows, how he got to know the person, and the circumstances surrounding the encounter. I am always amazed by the number of people he knows, or how he has had the opportunity to meet famous people. I guess I must be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One feels a little bit like Ziggy, who knows only a few “unknowns” of society.
The readings today (Luke 14: 1, 7-14; Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a) focus upon our relationship with God and our relationship with the most vulnerable of society. The parable of the wedding banquet warns us about making the presumption that when we are invited, it means we will occupy the place of honor. The second parable is about inviting those who have no means of repaying one in return. It is very easy for us to dismiss the point that Jesus is talking about, but he is addressing our relationship with God. Both in the Hebrew Testament (OT), and the Christian Testament (NT), great emphasis has been placed upon what we do or don’t do for the marginalized. Our first reading from the book of Sirach concludes with a powerful admonition, “Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sin (Sirach 3:29).”
Embedded in Jesus’ parables, and echoed in the first reading and proclaimed in the Psalm response is an invitation to conversion, or as the Greeks would say a “metanoia”—a change of heart. The Word of God is helping us think differently about our relationship with Him. What do we have to think about differently in our relationship with God, and how do the poor fit into this relationship? “God in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor” we proclaimed in response to our first reading. Our God who loves unconditionally, who always seeks us out, is also the God of orphans, but we too were orphans before Jesus reconciled us to the Father. Our God is a defender of widows and a God who gives a home to the forsaken, but we too were forsaken because of our sin.
This Word of God—what is it challenging you to rethink in your relationship with Him? When I was working among the poor in our sister parish in the Dominican Republic, I began to realize that we get to heaven on the coat stings of the poor. Closeness to the marginalized opens the door to closeness with God who has made a home for them. I am sure that you who are involved in our outreach ministries and support the poor have felt this closeness to God. St. John Paul II when declaring Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Blessed, said, “’As you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).’ This Gospel passage, so crucial in understanding Mother Teresa’s service to the poor, was the basis of her faith-filled conviction that in touching the broken bodies of the poor she was touching the body of Christ.”
In God’s heavenly banquet all the places are places of honor not just for us, but for the dying homeless man held in the arms of Blessed Mother Teresa or for the beggar who stands at the intersection with a sign that reads, “Homeless! Can you please help?” Recall the story of Lazarus and the rich man who ate sumptuously each day. All that the rich man had to do in order to get to heaven was give Lazarus some food. Why was that so challenging for the rich man?
Walter was a homeless man who lived on the streets of Milwaukee. He taught me one of the most important lessons of my life. He came to the shelter on one of those below zero nights carrying a small bucket of food that he collected from dumpsters. I asked if I could take his bucket of food scraps and get him some fresh sandwiches. Clutching the bucket tightly he said, “You can get me some clean underwear.” I learned that night one of the great lessons of life. Let the poor tell you what they need and don’t presume what they need. “Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sins, (Sirach 3:29).”
Yours in Christ,