This is a Mass of Welcome. This has been a weekend of celebration, of affirmation. In the midst of welcome and celebration, our readings today focus on “humility.” And upon careful reflection, I find that there is a wonderful connection between the readings of this twenty‐second Sunday in ordinary time and the occasion of this time of transition and change, this Orientation Weekend, and our Mass of Welcome.
In the first reading, a reading from Hebrew Wisdom literature, we hear Sirach (SY‐Rack) giving practical advice about the relationship between human achievement, humility, and one’s relationship with God (and therefore one’s self). Sirach observes that humble people are more appreciated even than those who have wealth and use it to give generous gifts. Why? He says this is because (among other things) humble people are always interested in the wisdom of others, in what others have to teach them—whereas generous people are not always so inclined. In fact, he says, people who are generous are often obsessed with their own needs, and advancing their own (sometimes unrealistic) desires.
For you students, and for us who together now are part of the intellectual endeavor we call Gonzaga, I think Sirach is laying a challenge before us that is both critical and complicated.
I do not think Sirach believes that being humble and being generous are mutually exclusive. But I do think Sirach is warning us that with achievement, it is easy to become proud, and with pride comes a tendency to become self‐centered, self‐promoting, and unrealistic about what we, on our own, are really capable of doing.
“The mind of a sage appreciates proverbs” Sirach says, meaning: Wise people are attracted the wisdom that others have to give – and by inference, he is saying, truly wise people are humble people. This weekend, Gonzaga is oriented towards and focuses its attention upon you new incoming students. In many ways, for us, it is all about you. This morning, I think Sirach is asking each of us to recognize the gift we have been given and remember that even as we now embark on this journey of seeking wisdom, wisdom is about being open to what others especially the new and yet‐to‐be‐met others around us, have to share with us.
In very practical ways, you who have been moving into the residence halls this weekend have already gotten a taste of others’ wisdom. They are Gonzaga “basic rules for living” – No smoking in your room. No keeping of life‐threatening pets. Be quiet after 10 p.m. Keep the doors locked so that strangers won’t come in and steal your roommate’s DVD collection.
Luke’s gospel brings the message of humility home to us in a new and more specific way. The gospel relates a parable – a lesson‐within‐a‐story – that Jesus tells at the dinner table of a Pharisee—a wisdom person—one night. The question is: Where does one sit when one chooses a place at a wedding banquet table? At one level, Jesus is teaching basic etiquette – just as Sirach does in the first reading, Jesus offers practical wisdom: “Don’t be driven by your own sense of self‐importance when choosing a place; you might discover that you’re not as important as you thought.”
But at another, much deeper level, Jesus offers us at least two additional an significant lessons. First, and most significant, Jesus is saying “pride, and self‐promotion, have no place at God’s table.” It is the humble person, the person who puts everyone else before her, or him, that will be lifted up. The humble person, reflecting in their actions that there is no limit to what other people can teach them, fundamentally recognizes that it is not he or she, but God, who makes all things possible.
Second, just in case the Pharisees aren't’t really listening, Jesus confirms and cements solidly in place his definition of “humility” when he moves on to talk about “reciprocity.” “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite people you know can return the favor. In Jesus’ time, just as often happens in our own experience, people worked from a framework that says, “one good act deserves another” ‐‐ an act of kindness was expected to be repaid. But Jesus makes a fundamental distinction between being generous and being “humble” here: the truly humble person, he says, expects no repayment, expects no reciprocity. In fact, the humble person invites those people who others turn away precisely because they have no capacity to repay them the same way. And they do this not because they feel sorry for them, but because they fundamentally understand that the poor, and the crippled, the lame and the blind, have as much – if not more – to teach us about what it means both to be truly human, and what it means to know God.
Today it seems to me that God is speaking directly to all of us, but especially to you who have come to make Gonzaga your second home. In these next few weeks and months you will be asked to make many choices: choices about what to do, where to go, with whom to associate. I think that Jesus is saying to each of you, and indeed to all of us: our contentment, our happiness, is fundamentally related to whether, or not, we are oriented with humility towards each other. All predicates to injustice spring from choices people make about their needs in relation to others’ needs. I think Jesus is asking us this question: “Will our choices be invitations to those who need us the most, or will they be invitations to those we are most comfortable with?
The Jesuit preferential option for the poor is reflected for me in today’s responsorial psalm: “God, in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor.” Is not the psalmist suggesting that it is we who are challenged to be worthy of joining the poor at God’s table?
In today’s gospel, Jesus is reminding us that we all have weaknesses, we all have challenges. When we remember this, and we operate out of this awareness, we have the best chance of really remembering that we all are worthy of care, and respect, and love. The Second Reading reminds us that, in contrast to the covenant of the Old Testament, which was about rules for engaging with a terrifying and remote image of God—the new Covenant is, fundamentally, a covenant of eternal love. To fulfill Jesus’ desire for us, we must allow love to flow from within us, outward towards others. Loving one another can be quite difficult, at times – particularly if we disagree with each other, or we have problems with the way another person behaves, or speaks, or wears certain out‐of‐date clothes. But love is nonetheless repeatedly what Jesus enjoins us to do – to act with respect for one another, to seek justice for those who are voiceless, or marginalized; to reach out our hands to someone in sadness or worry . . . to bring the lessons of love and of justice we have learned through our parents and our sisters and brothers into each new and challenging situation that we find ourselves faced with.
Today God speaks to us, at this Mass of Welcome, and asks each of us to listen deeply to our own heart. Students, if the ones who have cared for you, who have been parent to and with you, had not been successful in imparting the gift of wisdom to you, you could not be here today. Parents, family members, and friends; the greatest gifts you can impart to your daughters and sons, these newest members of the Gonzaga Community, are the same gifts of loving wisdom you have been giving to them since they were first known to you. On this day of hello’s, but also of goodbye’s, Jesus asks us once again, to be humble, and in so doing, to open our ears to listen; to hear God’s voice in the stories, and the lessons, that we each have to offer to one another.
Today, Christ reminds us that every one of his people is welcome at the table of God, and asks us to join with Him in welcoming everyone, as well.
T. McCulloh – August 29, 2010