22nd Sunday Year C
Theme of the week: Let us humble ourselves and reach out to the marginalised.
The Second Reading presents a contrast of styles between Old Testament and New Testament teachings. It would be helpful if we read the whole passage in its entirety, including the omitted verses of 20 and 21. By incorporating these omitted verses, it becomes clear that the passage presents a contrast between the old covenant brought about by Moses and the new covenant brought about by Jesus. It does so by contrasting Mt Sinai and Mt Zion. Whereas the former was where Moses received the Old Covenant, the latter is where the New Jerusalem sits, the heavenly destination Jesus promised us in the New Covenant. While Moses “tremble[d] with fear” (verse 21) as he encountered God on Mt Sinai, Mt Zion is a place of great joy, where everyone is a “firstborn” to God (verse 23). By this vision, Paul dispersed the image of a fearsome God. Instead, the image of God that Jesus conveyed is one of a loving father, to whom Jesus dearly addressed as “Abba” – similar the modern term “Daddy”.
The First Reading praises the virtue of humility. The passage declares that a humble person finds favour with the Lord. A humble person reflects on God’s teachings. Pride, on the other hand, will cause a person to shut out the teachings of God; and becomes a hindrance to the person’s gaining of wisdom. Thus, where the passage says “the greater you are, the more you must humble yourself” (verse 18), the reverse is also true: the humbler a person, the greater the person becomes. This is a variation to the counter-cultural message that we have been hearing for the past three weeks: “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Lk 13:30).
The first part of the Gospel passage describes an episode where Jesus was invited to a meal at a leading Pharisee’s house. The religious men at the function, driven by pride, felt that they deserved a place of honour and were clamouring for the best seats on the table. This parable presents an extension to the First Reading’s message. Jesus exalted those who assume a low place at the table in humility: “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (verse 11) In today’s ego-centric world, self-centredness is abound or even encouraged. Against such social norm, Jesus’ teaching is not only challenging but also counter-cultural. That is what Christians are called to, to not conform to the values of the world but to be counter-cultural. Notice the the future tense used in verse 11 (“will be humbled”, “will be exalted”). This suggests that the verse is not just a conclusion for the parable, but also the foretelling of the future that is to come – at the Final Judgement.
The second part of the Gospel passage presents another paradoxical teaching. The passage encourages us to extend our charity to “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (verse 13). Instead of inviting well-endowed guests that will repay our goodwill in the future (which is the social norm), we are asked to invite the poor and afflicted, those who have no mean of repaying the goodwill. In return, God will reward us in eternity. And isn’t God’s reward infinitely more superior to any earthly reward?
Let us reflect upon this further: who are “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” that I should reach out to? To many of us, these might be the poor and homeless. That is true, for these are a legitimate group of social outcasts that genuinely need our help. Spare a thought for a moment – what about those that we cast outside the Church? Jesus is asking us to invite these as well, the adulterous woman (see Jn 8:1-11) of the modern times. These include people caught in the vicious cycle of vices (drugs, prostitution); people experiencing same sex attractions; and others in similar situations. Here is a challenge for us: am I prepare to answer Jesus’ call and reach out to these brothers and sisters as well? Show them that our God is not a fearsome God that they should “tremble with fear” (First Reading, verse 21). Rather, we are all his “firstborn” (First Reading, verse 23) and He loves us. Let us carry this thought with us as go forth, to love and to serve. Amen.