Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sunday word, 02 Sep 2007

22d Sunday of the Year (02Sep2007) Sir 3.17-18,20, 28-29; Ps 68; Hb 12.18-19,22-24a; Lk 14. 1, 7-14
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

A Tie, a Thread, a Tool

Early in their marriage my sister and brother-in-law dined with my family one holiday. Abe wore a smart tie, and I admired it and told him. “You like it?” Abe asked, placing his open hand behind its knot and let the tie drape over his knuckles from knot to tip. Then my surprise: Abe untied it, slid it from beneath his collar, saying, “It’s yours, enjoy wearing it.”

Abe is Lebanese. You, who are Lebanese, can appreciate that moment. You, who are not, can as well because you know Fr. George and his good-natured generosity. His generosity and self-effacing manner; my experience at our dining room table; and any number of corpuscles of Mediterranean blood flowing in some of us: alert us to a message today’s scriptures offer us.

The message is conveyed along a thread of Mediterranean culture, a thread which lives today as it did even before Jesus’ parable, which he told to status-conscious religious professionals invited to the same dinner as Jesus.

In Mediterranean culture humility consists in never overstepping one’s status, claiming more honor than one deserves, and not grasping for or clinging to gifts. Yes, gifts have their way of expecting gifts in return. Also, we are often tempted to live beyond ourselves, not our means, ourselves. As the Book of Proverbs counseled: Claim no honor in the king’s presence, nor occupy the place of great men; For it is better that you be told, “Come up closer!” than that you be humbled before the prince./1/

Christ-like, humble people--I realize that’s a redundant phrase, but homilies profit from certain repetitions in expression--Christ-like, humble people never put others in their debt. Because they don’t is why people can approach them and have genuine affection for them.

Jesus did not merely confirm the honor attached to not living beyond oneself and the shame attached to giving gifts in order to profit by gaining other gifts or attention or status. Jesus subverted the human order, indeed the human tendency toward self-importance and self-exaltation with his ever-troubling line: For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted. Jesus’ compact line makes our souls itch at best--why it’s troubling--but it need not be troublesome to appreciate. Why? Because Jesus did not address a correct way to exalt oneself; Jesus addressed the attitude, the frame of mind, the heart-craving, which seek exaltation at all.

That sentence summarizing Jesus’ parable does not subvert self-esteem or self-respect. Instead it helps us appreciate God’s heart and moves us to put on the attitude of Christ./2/ God’s heart desires to defend and shelter the forsaken. The attitude of our Messiah is Water which quenches a flaming fire and seeks to give alms, which atone for sins.

Cultivating open-handed, wide-hearted generosity into lavish, selfless giving is a practice and a tool to be God’s heart for others and to transform our attitudes and widen our thinking by putting on the attitude of our Messiah Jesus.

Indeed the generosity--not only to me--of my Lebanese brother-in-law; of Fr. George; and that of my Greek cousins, many now resting in peace, continues to function as a tool, helping me to encounter Jesus more readily in the words of scripture, which always point to him. Their practice brings to life what often appears “dead and deformed”/3/ on the bible’s pages.

In your 15 minutes with Jesus this week, which several have told me is becoming one of their Christian practices, pause in your day to feel God’s heart embracing you and sheltering you. Ask one of Jesus’ disciples to present you to him in order that you may converse with Jesus about his attitude, which restrained him from exalting himself. Ask him for the grace to live as he created you, not how you want to create yourself. Resolve to put on his attitude and put it into practice in a concrete way after your 15 minutes with him each day. Close by slowly saying the Lord’s Prayer because it guides us to live modestly and never beyond ourselves.
/1/ One line St. Paul used of a hymn sung in his day to honor the Messiah Jesus. Paul incorporated the hymn--at least a portion of it--in his Letter to the Philippians, for whom he had special affection. See 2.11.

/2/ The phrase is from this sentence of Peter of Celle, a 12th-century French Benedictine bishop: “What lies dead and deformed in the letter on the dead parchment comes to life when what is read is put into practice.” Hugh Feiss quotes it in his Essential Monastic Wisdom
Wiki-image of window of Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain, is used under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 License.

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