22nd Sun [C] 2007

Fr. Charles Irvin

Sirach 3:17-18, 20; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14: 1,7-14

All of us like to be popular. We want to be important, to be the hero of the football game, the Homecoming Queen, the captain of the team, or the leader of the parade. Some of us dream of being rock stars, getting into movies, running for political office, or whatever. We all want our fifteen minutes of fame; we all want applause, we all want esteem, admiration, and notoriety.

Today’s Gospel reading is about the game playing we’ll do in order to climb the social ladder. The setting is a dinner party and the guests, instead of thinking about the wonderful food that’s going to be put before them, are thinking about who will sit at the right hand of the host. Then, as now, sitting close to the host is a sign of one’s importance and one’s prestige. Sitting at the foot of the table was humiliating; an indication of one’s being the least important.

Jesus observed their efforts at self-promotion and used the occasion to give one of His better-known teachings, this one on how to be truly important.

The worst thing about self-promotion is that it never works. We’ve seen that in ourselves, and we’ve seen it in others. We easily recognize the techniques that are employed. 

One is fault finding. If we cannot build ourselves up, we tear others down. The trouble is that everyone sees through that ploy. Who can ever possibly climb higher on a ladder by pushing others down a rung or two? How does tearing others down ever build our selves up?

Another is name-dropping. This ploy has us telling others about the events and episodes in which we are on friendly terms with the rich, the famous and the important It would be like me telling you about what John and I did when last we met, with my making sure that you understood that “John” was the company president… or my conversation with “Bill,” Bill being Bill Clinton.

But why would that make me important? I really don’t know’ because I’ve never found that importance is transferable. I thought it was only acquired the old-fashioned way… by earning it.

And then there’s boasting. I had a relative who, whenever I talked with him, always launched into a listing of the wonderful things he had done for so many people, knowing that I am a priest and really intending to “out-priest” me in “priesting”. It was so ridiculous because he was not even a Christian. He was driven to think of himself as better than me in all respects and in all matters. Well, he’s dead now. God will reward him for all his accomplishments.

Jesus was so very right – the person who exalts himself would sooner or later, be humiliated… and the humiliation will be self-inflicted. Self-promotion simply never works – ever.

But so far we’ve only been talking here about looking important. Jesus, on the other hand, is talking about being important.

There are lots of ways of being important. One is to study hard, develop skills, and become exceptionally competent in one’s chosen field of endeavor. Another is by being helpful, by being useful in genuinely serving others at minimal cost to them. When you do that you will find yourself to be quite an important person in their lives. Another way is to become important in God’s eyes, not in the eyes of those around you. You can do this by helping those whom society deems to be worthless, by becoming God’s agent in our world.

Once upon a time a couple began planning their weddings. They were overwhelmed at the thought of how expensive it was going to be, even for a simple party for all the people they hoped would come to celebrate their love for each other. The bride had spent two years after she graduated from college working as a volunteer with the very poor. She was uncomfortable with the expense of her wedding but still felt that a wedding was a time to gather in their large families and many friends to witness their commitment both to each other and to the God who had brought them together. But what, she kept thinking, about those poor people out there?

So this bride and groom included a card in their wedding invitation, inviting their guests to help them help the poor and the disabled by considering a donation to one of their favorite charities. The couple’s concern for the poor touched the hearts of their guests. Many who attended their wedding commented on how impressed they were by the tender thoughtfulness and compassionate love exhibited by this newly married couple.

The wedding was a great feast. The souls of lots of people were fed, not just their bodies.

So how many of you have ever thought of sharing your school lunch with someone everyone thinks is a nerd? What is your attitude about people who are “different”? Do you stand with them? What makes you stand out in the crowd as a genuine Christian? Or to you prefer to melt into the crowd and not be known as a Christian?

Then there’s the story of an elderly woman with two grown children. She has a son who is a Catholic, teaching in a Boston high school. She also has a daughter who is actually a stepdaughter living in Israel and who is a Jew. You see, back in World War II this elderly woman, who is Polish, was living in Poland when the Nazis came into her town, herded all of the Jews into boxcars, and shipped them off to death camps. This girl, the Jewish stepdaughter, watched as her mother was being herded into a boxcar. A soldier asked her mother: “Is that your child?” The Jewish mother looked into the crowd surrounding this scene, pointed to the young Polish woman who was her neighbor, and shouted: “No, the child belongs to her!”

From that day forward the little Jewish girl became part of a Polish Catholic family. But she grew up as a Jew because her Polish stepmother thought it was the sort of thing Jesus would do.

What would Jesus do? If you want to be important, ask that question frequently throughout your days and then answer it as best you can. How we answer it may not give us fame, prestige and great importance in the eyes of those around us. But remember, Jesus’ opinion is the only vote that counts. I think of His words often, as he tells each one of us here, “He who humbles himself shall be exalted.” Doing what He would do is the most important thing we can ever do. And doing what He would do always makes us be very important persons.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”