Have you ever read the novel by Daniel Defoe entitled Robinson Crusoe? Written during the 18th century, the novel reveals some of the philosophical thinking of the times. While it may seem like a “children’s novel,” it is anything but. Careful reading reveals that the novelist believed that Robinson was shipwrecked on that island because he tried to rise above his station in life. He tried to be someone other than the man he was.
This kind of thinking is completely opposite of the way most people feel today. Who doesn’t want to “make something of themselves”? What parent doesn’t want their children to be more than they were? We strive to better ourselves economically, socially, educationally, etc.
The kind of thinking that informed Daniel Defoe is actually the kind of thinking that we find in the Scriptures. The children of Israel believed that God created everyone just as they were meant to be. They did not believe that anyone should be richer, stronger, or more powerful than God intended them to be and as they had been at birth. We find all sorts of evidence of this in the Gospels when the people question who Jesus is? “He came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, ‘Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?’ And they took offense at him” (Matthew 13:54-57a).
Today’s Gospel is the familiar story of Jesus dining at the home of a Pharisee. Luke tells us from the outset that this, like so many occasions before, is another test. “On a Sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully” (Luke 14:1). They are observing him carefully in the hopes that they will be able to find fault with something that he says or does. As is usually the case, Jesus is able to avoid the trap. He acts like the perfect guest and even teaches the others how they should act. He uses a parable to confront them with their unseemly behavior of trying to get the best seat at table.
However, he goes a little further and also offers his host some advice. He tells the host that he should extend his invitation to the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Now even in our culture, we often hear the comment: “You are known by the company you keep.” These people believe that ill fortune fell upon those who were sinners. To ask them to sit at table would be tantamount to admitting that he was also a sinner. Remember, Jesus has been condemned by the Pharisees for eating with sinners, with prostitutes and tax collectors. In effect, Jesus is telling the Pharisee that he should remember that he too is a sinner.
True humility is the thread that runs through the readings for today’s liturgy. Essentially, true humility means admitting that we are all sinners, that we are all in need of God’s mercy. Admitting who we are makes it much easier to see that “but for the grace of God,” we would be doomed by our sins. However, we can be better. We can improve our lot in life. It is possible to change who we are. This is called “conversion,” “repentance,” and is accomplished by contrition and sorrow for our sins, with a firm purpose of amendment.
In the Letter to the Hebrews today, the sacred writer compares our reality to that of the people who received the covenant of Sinai. They approached a mountain wreathed in smoke and wrapped in gloomy darkness when they accepted the covenant that God offered them. We, on the other hand, approached the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem when we accepted the covenant offered us in Jesus. They were frightened by the voice of God and begged that they should hear no more. We have heard the voice of Jesus who invites us to find rest in him by accepting his yoke. They were sprinkled with the blood of goats and rams in the hopes of having their sins washed away. We have been washed clean in the blood of Jesus, shed for us on Calvary. They approached God, their Judge. We, however, have clung to Jesus who is our mediator.
The Scriptures beg us to look at who we are and to accept with humility that we stand in need of God’s compassion and mercy. As we approach the altar today to receive the body and blood of Jesus, our Savior, we realize our need. True humility is admitting who we are and what we truly need.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator