31Oct 31st October. Saturday of Week 30

1st Reading: Romans 11:1-2, 11-12, 25-29

The paradoxical status of God’s people, when they reject Him

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?

So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.” “And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-11

Not choosing celebrity or status

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher;’ then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”


Our heart’s treasure

Unlike the evangelists, Paul’s gospel does not even attempt to gather up and record the words and deeds of Jesus. Rather his gospel is about the risen Lord, alive now within the community. Every action and word among the believers becomes an action or statement of the “body of Christ.” What joy filled the heart of Paul and what holiness was transmitted to others, by simply mentioning the name “Christ.” With this name he felt he could sweep aside all envy and envy among the faithful.

In this great letter to the Romans, Christ is seen as both the treasure and the vocation of the gentiles. They are drawn into the grace of Christ and are called to spread his spirit in the world. This unusual turn of events brings Paul to think of his own people, the tribes of Israel, who as a group refused to recognize Jesus as Lord and Messiah, though many of them did become disciples. Yet, as Paul sees it, as a nation, they were overcome by blindness. Rather than discuss the baffling “mystery” of Judaism’s destiny, our meditation here can focus on Paul’s word, “blindness.” How much anger and impatience would be spared, how much kindness and gentleness manifested, if we would stop judging people’s motives. Even if we are in the right, our approach to others would be so much more in accord with Scripture if we would only attribute good intentions and divine grace to those who differ with us. “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” Also, the divergent viewpoint in our neighbour may enable us to see our own position of faith all the more clearly. “Blindness has come on part of Israel until the full number of Gentiles enter in. Paul adds, “Then Israel will be saved,” but only when we ourselves are fully dedicated to the gospel which is the person of Christ. What hinders conversion is not our ignorance of truth but our lack of joy and enthusiasm “in Christ.”

Too many good people want to be publicly known and recognized for their goodness; too many consciously or unconsciously pull rank so as to sit in the place of honour. In today’s parable Jesus is kind enough to adapt himself to this common weakness of even good people. So he advises that we “Sit in the lowest place so that the host will say, ‘My friend, come up higher,’ then you will win esteem.” He seems to be saying: “If you must seek esteem, at least go about it in a proper, civilized way.” The gospel ends with the most difficult commandment of all, be humble. The commandment to be humble is a stumbling block to us all, even if exaltation is offered as a reward.


The path to choose

The final words in today’s gospel apply above all to Jesus’ own life, “whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Saint Paul tells how Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and then humbled himself, even unto death on a cross — and, because of that, God “gave him a name above every other name.” Having humbled himself, he was exalted by God and becomes the  source of our salvation.

Jesus did not look for honour for himself, rather, in the service of others he was prepared to be dishonoured, enduring the shame of crucifixion. Yet, he received the only honour worth having, honour from God. In today’s gospel, Jesus is calling on others to take the path that he took, the path of humble service of others leading to receiving honour from God. He criticizes those who look for honour at banquets, whose goal in life is to be honoured by others, to win recognition and celebrity. He shows that the highest goal in life is to do God’s will, and the way to this is through the humble service of others.

[Martin Hogan]

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