Sunday, September 1, 2013

Caring for the least in our midst

HOMILY FOR THE 22nd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, September 1, 2013:


A man, down on his luck, went into a church which catered to the wealthy and powerful. Spotting the man’s dirty clothes a deacon, worried about the churches image, went to the man and asked him if he needed help. The man said, “I was praying and the Lord told me to come to this church.” The deacon suggested that the man go pray some more and possibly he might get a different answer. The next Sunday the man returned. The deacon asked, “Did you get a different answer?” The man replied, “Yes I did. I told the Lord that they don’t want me in that church and the Lord said, ‘I know how you feel; I’ve been trying to get into that church for years and still haven’t made it.”

We heard in our reading from Sirach today, “Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”  Perhaps one of the greatest struggles in all of life – especially if we seek our eternal glory in Heaven – is this struggle between humility and pride.  God’s message to us is clear – humble yourself in My sight.  And yet, our world cries out sometimes even more loudly – be Number One, be the richest, the most famous, the most powerful.  As the bumper sticker proclaims, “The one who dies with the most toys wins!”  As St. Paul reminds us, the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God.

Our Gospels today teach us that as Christians we should give priority to the poor in the way we dispense our resources. We are given these parables today about dinner parties today through which Jesus is teaching us the basic Christian virtues of humility and solidarity with the poor.

The first parable is addressed to Christians as those who are invited to the feast of the Lord’s Supper. Irrespective of social status and importance we all come to the Eucharist as brothers and sisters of equal standing before God. This is the only place where the employer-employee relationship, master and servant distinctions, rich or poor, popular or unpopular, dissolve and we recognize one another simply as brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Jesus challenges His followers to abolish such distinctions and recognize and treat one another as true and equal brothers and sisters before God; no matter their position in the world. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

There is a story from the American Revolution of an officer in civilian clothes who rode past a group of soldiers digging a foxhole. Their commander was shouting instructions, but making no attempt to help them. Asked why, he replied with great dignity, Sir, I am a Corporal! The stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers himself. When the job was completed he turned to the corporal and said Corporal, next time you have a job like this, and not enough men to do it, go to your commander in chief, and I will come and help you again. It was only then that the corporal recognized who was standing before him, General George Washington. “The one who humbles himself…”

The second parable today is addressed to Christians as those who invite others to the feast of the Lord’s Supper. “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be.”  In this second part of his teaching Jesus goes beyond removing distinctions and calls even for a preference for the poor, the disabled and the marginalized among us. He calls us to give the first place to those most in need in our communities.  He reminds us that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is why priority of attention is to be given to the weakest members of our society. You’ve probably heard the adage, “The true measure of a society is in how it treats its weakest members.”  This is equally true of the Christian community. It is in the best interest of the Christian community to give priority to the poor and needy in our midst. Listen the next time you hear people argue about war or poverty or health care or immigration. Where is the care, the preference, for the poor?

Pope Francis spoke about this earlier this summer as well making another point about the importance of caring for the poor – when we care for them, we encounter Jesus.  Speaking on the Feast of St. Thomas he said, “Jesus tells us that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. 'Oh, great! Let's set up a foundation to help everyone and do so many good things to help '. That's important, but if we remain on this level, we will only be philanthropic. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed.”

Jesus, today, is once again pointing us to what is really of value, and that is caring for those in need of our help. And isn’t this what so many of us do already? We care for family members and friends and neighbors; we offer our time and whatever resources we can to soup kitchens and clothing drives; we join walks and runs in support of worthy causes. We are just ordinary people attentive to others in ordinary ways that are really, when you think about it, extraordinary. In such situations, we do not claim places of honor; we do not insist on special recognition. Rather, we genuinely conduct our affairs in humility. And if our eyes our open, we just might notice that we have encountered Christ in those very same moments.  And that should be life changing for us all.

Let us pray today and every day that we have an ever-growing awareness of those in most need in our midst and that we may reach out to them in charity and love – not as “other” or “unworthy”, but as our brothers and sisters, members of one family in Christ. 

“Blessed indeed will you be…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”


May the Lord give you peace.

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