The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Homily: Monday, 31st Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Rom 11:29-36; Ps 69; Lk 14:12-14

An old friend of our family, a Jew who converted to Catholicism, used to talk a lot about his father, an orthodox rabbi. I remember him once saying that his father would often criticize his fellow Jews because they tried to turn God into a mensch. Now "mensch" is a German word that in Yiddish evolved into a term for a true human being, a person of honor. "But God," the rabbi would say, "is no mensch. He's God."

St. Paul, a Pharisee, rabbi, and teacher, says much the same thing in today's reading from Romans:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! [Rom 11:33]
No, God is no mensch. He's not like us. He's certainly no superhuman. 

Paul continues, though, with a prayer, a doxology, to ensure we understand that God is...well, beyond our understanding:
For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given him anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To God be glory forever. Amen [Rom 11:34-36].
"Who has known the mind of the Lord?"
Yes, indeed, as God reminded His prophet, Isaiah:
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways" [Is 55:8].
I think sometimes, perhaps more than sometimes, we forget this and try to re-create God in our image, to turn Him into just another good guy, to turn Him into a mensch. But Jesus disabuses us of this error, and in today's Gospel passage from Luke, shows us how very different are God's ways from ours.

Jesus had been invited to dine at the home of a Pharisee, and yet He asked his host to look into himself and examine his motives.

Who do you bring into your home - the rich and famous? And why do you share your bounty with them? Is it only to ingratiate yourself with them, so they will invite you in turn? Indeed, Mr. Pharisee, why did you invite me here today? Is it just because I'm a local celebrity and you hope my fame will rub off on you?

It all hits home, doesn't it?

Thirteen years ago, when Diane and I first began helping out at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, I encountered a few strange attitudes. For example, one of our volunteers, who served our desserts, expected a certain kind of behavior from our guests. If someone said nothing when she handed them a dessert, she'd challenge with, "You didn't say, 'Thank you.'"

Well, I quickly realized that had to change, so we issued a policy statement that stated: 
Each Soup Kitchen guest honors us by accepting our hospitality, which we interpret as their deepest heart-felt gratitude.
In other words, their being there is thanks enough.
Oh, yes, brothers and sisters, we are so much like the Pharisees. Always looking for a payback, aren't we?

"We had those new neighbors for dinner six months ago, but they've never invited us back. Can you believe it?"

But have we opened our homes and our hearts to those who can't return the favor, to those who can thank us only by their presence?

When did you and I invite the rejected of the world into our homes?

When did "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" sit around our table?

There are a lot of lonely people in our community, in every neighborhood, people who feel abandoned by others, who think themselves abandoned by God. But you and I are called to do God's work, to go to the abandoned and show them God's love. You don't have to look for them. They're all around us; you know who they are.

It's really just a call to humility, isn't it? To realize we are no greater, indeed we are often much farther from God than the poor in spirit who cry out silently in their suffering. Yes, brothers and sisters, humility is a demanding virtue. It takes greatness to become little, strength to become weak, and wisdom to embrace all that Jesus demands of us, to embrace the folly of the Cross.

And it's in the Cross, it's in the crucified Jesus that we encounter the divine paradox: the humility and the greatness and the otherness of God.

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