Homily for August 28

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Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily


In Jesus’ day, meals were very powerful, critical social events.
Above all, meals affirmed and gave legitimacy to
an individual’s role and status in the larger community.
For this reason, most dinners and celebrations like weddings,
were attended by people all of the same social rank.
And the question of where people were seated at such meals
was both telling and sensitive.
The fact that a leading Pharisee invited Jesus to dine at his house
indicates that the Pharisees accepted him as a social equal
even though they were clearly keeping an eye on him,
 “observing him closely.”

But if you think this is just an example
of a quaint, ancient social custom,
you’ve forgotten something all of us adults experienced
earlier in our lives
and something our younger folks will begin to experience
again this week when they return to school.
And that something is:
the seating plan of students in a school cafeteria.
You want to talk about “powerful, critical social moments?”
Sorting out levels of social rank among individuals in a large group?
Have lunch in your local school’s cafeteria!

I graduated from high school 50 years ago
but I can tell you even now
which classmates I had lunch with every day.
(And more significantly,
I can tell you which classmates I never had lunch with
over 4 years.)

The questions:
who gets invited and who sits where and with whom
make for just as powerful a social structure today
they did 2,000 years ago.

And this is not a social convention
confined to school lunch rooms.
We graduate and repeat the experience in college,
and then we bring it to the work place, to the office,
our neighborhoods - and even to our own families.

The words of Jesus in the gospel may be ancient
but they continue to speak to our own experience.
The simple and hard truth is this:
in the heart of Jesus there is no room for discrimination;
in the heart of Jesus there is no room for partiality;
in the heart of Jesus there is no room for exclusion.

In the heart of Jesus  there is
one eternally large, round cafeteria table
with plenty of room for every brother and sister
- without exception -
and because that table is round, every seat is equal
- and Jesus is at its center.

In the gospel today, Jesus gives us instructions,
his rules of etiquette for inviting others to sit with us at table.
The reason he singles out 
the poor, the halt, the lame and the blind
is not so much on account of their situation or handicap
but precisely because in his day,
these were the people who could not possible return the invitation.
And returning a dinner invitation
was precisely how the social structure of his times was kept intact.
(I invite you, you invite me, I invite you back - we all stay together:
we stay with the ones we want
and we keep out the ones we don’t want.)

The unspoken protocol of school cafeteria seating 
does exactly the same thing:
it keeps some folks “in” and some folks “out.”
Of course, those who are “out” might find a way “in” -
if they have something to offer the crowd in the “higher seats,”          
at the tables where the cool kids sit.               
But by contrast, Jesus calls us to open our hearts to all -
regardless of what others may have to offer us in return
and even if they have nothing to offer in return.

• Some among us will be going back to school this week
and will have an opportunity make a difference
in the lives of classmates
just by how they choose their tables and seats in the cafeteria,
by where they sit and with whom they share a table.

• Many of us will be going to work 
and choosing where we’ll have lunch
- and whom we’ll invite to join us.

• And all of us might look at the invitation lists
for gatherings and dinners we’re planning
in our neighborhoods and in our own families.
Who is generally always invited?
Who is seldom invited - and why?
Who is not welcome at my table?
Who would Jesus invite to my table?

It happens that we find ourselves at a table right now,
the table of the Lord’s Supper.
And to this table he has invited all of us
because on the Cross - he gave his life for all of us:
no exceptions,
no discrimination,
no partiality,
no exclusion.

The guest list for the Lord’s Table is a long one
because everyone’s name is on it: yours, mine
and all the people who’ve never been to our own tables
and all the people who’ve never invited us to theirs.

Here at the altar we practice, we rehearse
the table manners the Lord enjoins on our whole lives.

May what we do here at his Table in church,
nourish and strengthen us to be as welcoming and hospitable
at the tables of our own hearts and lives.


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