Vol.5 No. 51 DoM Gospel Reflection
22nd Sunday Ordinary Time— August 23, 2016
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Like most of holy scripture, there is so much you can take from any one reading. I will like to take a two prong approach in describing my thoughts and feelings regarding Luke’s reading. First, I’ll reflect on Jesus’ comments about being invited to a Pharisee’s dinner event. Second, I’ll reflect on His comments on who the host or hostess should invite.
When reflecting on this Gospel reading I found myself thinking about my parents and how at most family or social events, even ones they hosted, they always stayed back and quietly waited for others to get their food or to take a seat. I couldn’t understand why, as I was sure eager to get my share of the goodies and attention as well. But now in my old age I find myself and my husband Bruce doing the same thing. I understand now that my ‘drink and food’ or attention comes from enjoying others taking part in the celebration. When we host an event we find joy in our invitees’ pleasure in the food, drink or attention they receive. These are some of the images that came to mind as I reflected on this reading.
A commentary I read in my workbook for lectors about this Gospel suggests that Jesus talks about this particular aspect of being invited to a dinner and taking a low position of honor that at first glance He is giving an Emily Post like commentary on etiquette. He instructs the invited on how not to embarrass themselves at social situations. But if we dig deeper, we begin to realize that just being invited is an honor, just being called to the table is what we can be grateful for. Jesus says the ‘first shall be last’ indicating that the real pleasures we receive are not in the sensual experience of the event or the attention we might receive, but in the invitation to be in relationship with others. When we are invited can we approach others, God and even ourselves with openness and a soft and compassionate heart? For me I see this part of the Gospel reading as being about right relationship with those who reach out to us, those that welcome us into their lives, including Jesus’ call to be in relationship with the Trinity. Can we approach others with no expectations except to be present to the other?
Reflecting on the second half of the reading, Jesus suggests that the host offers his invitation with no expectations, no desire for something in return. He instructs the host to not invite important people, or people who would invite them to their events in return. As Jesus often does, he presents a counter culture approach. Invite the hungry, the weak, the poor, those who cannot possibly ever repay the host for what the host gives to them. Again I see this as being about relationship. When we invite others, can we give freely, no strings attached? When we offer ourselves to God, can we do so with no expectations of wanting something in return? When we engage in self-care and give needed attention to ourselves, can we do so without guilt?
There is some interesting psychological research that shows that when people engage in charitable giving they experience greater emotional and physiological health than those who are receiving the gift. Ironically, by being open to other people giving you something you are actually helping them as well. In business they call this a win-win situation. I think Jesus is pointing the way to the right relationship with others and God as one where everyone benefits. This win-win approach is really about love and humility by both the giver and receiver.
A recent Gospel reading discussed Jesus’ new commandment: Love God and love others as we love ourselves. I’ve often wondered if Jesus assumed that we loved ourselves. If not, what would it mean if we don’t love ourselves very much – does that mean, we don’t need to love others very much as well? I don’t think so. This new commandment directs us to love God with all our heart, mind and soul, to love ourselves with all our heart, mind and soul, and to love others with our all heart, mind and soul. I think that in our Gospel reading today, Jesus is using the metaphor of the host and the invitee to help us understand what loving is really about. It’s about how we approach our relationship with God, self and others: freely, openly, with no expectations except to be open to the joy and happiness of all that we invite and those who are inviting us, including God of course.
I am going to try to not to go off track too much here, but Deb said I could talk for more than five minutes! As I was reflecting on Jesus’ parable and I knew I would be talking with women, I couldn’t help but think about our relationship with ourselves as women. From a psychosocial viewpoint we are socialized to put other people’s needs first. As I was thinking about how we are called to love ourselves that this may be particularly difficult for many women. How can we invite ourselves to take the time and energy to not only engage in self-care but to have time to spend with God? At a silent retreat Fr. Viscardi instructed us to be generous with our time with God. To put aside all our worries and concerns about others and just to be quiet with Him, God. This can be a real challenge for those of us who are caregivers or have a strong focus on family and friends. We have to differentiate between self-care and self-indulgence. I remember as a young woman before taking off on an airplane flight being horrified by the stewardess’ instruction that in case of an emergency to put the oxygen mask on first before placing one on your child. My first thought was why would you do that? I want my child safe first. Over time I realized I needed the oxygen first so that I could take care of my child. If I didn’t take the time and effort to care for myself – body, mind, spirit – I wouldn’t have the strength or energy to adequately care for others. I try to remind myself of this each day when I take time to sit quietly with God or engage in prayer and try to let go of the guilt I sometimes feel for taking the time for focusing on myself and God. I am fortunate to have a husband that supports me in my spiritual and self-care endeavors. If you don’t, reach out to others for that support. It’s really hard to do it on your own – again it’s about relationships.
When we are open and willing to engage others with no underlying agenda, but freely with a compassionate heart, a listening ear, we are being humble, as Jesus instructs us to be in this parable and in many others throughout the Gospels. A dictionary definition of humility is ‘a modest or low view of one’s importance”. I see this as a letting go of ‘self’ so that God can be truly present in your encounters with Him, with others and even with yourself! God, similar to the images of my parents putting others first, is the host who experiences joy when we are happy. We invite Him into our lives in a humble and selfless manner, allowing us to realize the women He knows us to be.