Homily for September 2

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – C
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Luke 14:1-7, 14

This gospel passage is just in time for me
because I’m going to a wedding reception this afternoon
and now I know just how to behave when I get there!

But I’m surprised that in the gospel account
we don’t find a scribe or Pharisee jumping up and saying,
“But, Master! What about place cards?”

Place cards!

At most banquets and wedding receptions,
you find a place card at the entrance to the banquet room
and the place card tells you where to sit and,
in a subtle way, tells you just where you stand
among the host’s honored and best friends.

But the message of Jesus here is not about saving anyone
from an embarrassing moment,
it’s about something else…

Jesus’ admonition that when throwing a party ourselves
we should invite the “poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind”
is horribly not politically correct in our own culture
and a sure sign that in the culture of Jesus’ day
these were the groups of people regularly were excluded
from social gatherings, on account of their poverty of challenges.
But here, again, the message of Jesus is not about
having a quota of physically challenged people to dinner,
it’s about something else…

Remember when Jesus instructed the rich young man
to sell everything he had, give the money to the poor and follow him?
That message was not about an inventory of personal possessions,
it was about something else…
Many of the hard sayings of Jesus in the gospel lead us to wonder
how much does he want? what do we have to do?
how much must we give? does he really mean what he says?

And if it all leads to discussions about
where to sit, whom to invite and what do I need to give away,
we may have missed the whole thing --
because it’s about something else…

Thursday night we celebrated a Mass to close our Vacation Bible School:
a wonderful celebration with the children, their families
and other parishioners.
At the beginning of my homily
I asked the kids to tell me about the necklaces they were all wearing
and I asked one little girl, Julia, to loan me hers for a few minutes
while I was preaching.
In response to my questions the children told me
they had made the necklaces during the week,
that each one had 10 beads, one for each of the 10 commandments,
and that in the middle of the 10 beads was a Cross
to remind us that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the law.

I remarked about how beautiful the necklaces were
and when I handed Julia’s back to her, she said,
“If you like, you can keep it, Fr. Fleming.”

Now, THAT’S what it’s all about!
It’s about having the kind of heart that spontaneously offers
and gives away what it has - for the joy of others.

Jesus isn’t checking place cards:
he’s looking for a heart that thinks of others before its own needs.
Jesus isn’t looking for a quota of a minority group:
he’s looking for a heart that always has room for one more.
Jesus isn’t taking stock of our belongings:
he’s looking for a heart always ready to share
even what it prizes the most.

It’s not about where you sit, or whom you invite or what you possess.
It’s about growing a heart that gives up its own place, opens its door,
and gives itself away out of love, for the need and joy of another.

It’s about a heart that gives away the treasured necklace she made
at Vacation Bible School.

As beautiful as this necklace is, it’s all the more precious to me
because it came not only from Julia’s hand but also from her heart.

Here, at this table,
Jesus gives up his place for you and me;
he invites us to his supper although he knows we are not worthy;
and he gives from his heart all that was humanly his,
his Body and his Blood, in the Eucharist.

May the sacrament we receive from the Lord’s altar
nourish a spirit of loving sacrifice in us
and give us hearts to love as Jesus loved us.


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