C Cycle – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 19
During our classes on homiletics we were taught we were to “break open the word of God for the people.” We were told homilies were not the time to catechize but to help the congregation apply the word of God to their lives. Yet, we were also informed that all the surveys regarding how much of the gospel readings and the homilies given reveal some startling facts. One fact was most people attending mass each week could not remember the homily or the readings as they walked out the church each week. Another revelation of the surveys was if the individual did manage to get the message, they emphatically would talk about all those who needed to hear those words while the message did not apply to them.
With those factors in play, it is no wonder people will often say a certain priest or deacon preaches too long. Yet our own Church tells us in the Vatican II documents “we should hunger for the word as much as we hunger for the Eucharist.” We are encouraged to have a hunger driving us to have our fill of the gospel message. It is to be an all you can eat buffet of the word of God, never ending dessert filling our senses. Hunger drives us to find that which satisfies and what satisfies is found in the Word of God. We must pay attention and respond to the words of Jesus in today’s gospel.
Remember when Jesus said, “I have come to light a fire on earth, how I wish it were ignited” (Lk.12:49). Think about those words in relationship with the entire concept of why we preach, and you should see the reason we preach is to fan the flames of the fire Jesus desires to ignite in your heart and mine. Paul tells us to humbly think of all others as superior to ourselves. We do have a problem with feeling good about our relationship with God and our service to the church. We can easily deceive ourselves by thinking more highly of ourselves because we are faithful, loyal Catholics. We show up, we pray, we serve, we give, and we share but we fail to see how that creates an image of “all is well with my soul.”
We often speak of Jesus’ humility, but we know he was not timid when he spoke to those gathered in the home of Pharisee. What Jesus does in this gospel is to point out the insidious sin of pride at work in those who believe they are doing God’s will. It should be a lesson for all of us who call ourselves Christians. We can be blinded by our good deeds and our service to the church while ignoring those who are beginning a journey of discipleship. Today Jesus attending the dinner was not a quiet guest avoiding topics of controversy.
Being polite and avoid embarrassing others is a lesson we are taught from childhood. Yet Jesus is showing us there is a time to speak plainly especially when our actions fail to honor the gifts of others.
Let us be clear what God desires and what the mission is for all of us. God desires our hearts not our service. Service will flow from a life of discovering our God given gifts knowing they are to be used to build up the kingdom of God. What we are to do is exactly what God told the disciples to do as He ascended to the right hand of God – go and make disciples of all. We are not in the business of building up ourselves by our acts of piety. We are to proclaim the love and forgiveness of God and help others find a way to do the same.
We cannot do that without being direct in pointing out how insidious pride impacts our vision of serving. We do not serve for honor, reward, recognition or approval from God. We serve to build up the body and to set hearts on fire.
Today’s gospel is one of those we hear and can immediately begin to list those who lack humility within our parish community. There is something about serving that makes us feel humble while it works within our hearts puffing us up with an insensitivity to others seeking to grow their gifts. How many times have you heard someone in charge of a ministry say, “we do not need any more people?” How many individuals in ministry end up complaining about “how tired they are because they have been doing something for years and no one has stepped up to help. What they fail to realize is how their “possession” of the ministry left no room for anyone to help them.
It is easy to fail to understand how each ministry should support the mission of the church to form disciples. We need to enlarge our vision of serving to include how we can proclaim the gospel message of God’s love. We should not just serve meals to the poor. Instead we must interact with their humanity and let them know they are part of the body of Christ. We should not just serve as Eucharistic Ministers for one hour, we are ministers of the body of Christ in all we do every minute of our lives. We need to make room for everyone who desires to serve by inviting them into the ministry even if we must step aside to help them serve.
Jesus is speaking to each one of us today. To accomplish the mission of the church to form disciples we need our eyes centered on Jesus not on ourselves. We need hearts on fire and people who believe it is God we are following and God we are serving. We need to understand we are only humble servants saved by grace not by our good deeds.