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HUMILITY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

Read­ing Time: 7 minutes

22nd Sunday of the year [C] – August 28, 2016

(Ref. Text: Luke 14:1.7–14)

The con­tem­por­ary soci­ety espe­cially, Niger­ia is struc­tured accord­ing to those the Phar­isee should invite and those he should not invite. The invit­ees and the host are reflec­tions of us. We are the rich who invite our fel­low rich friends and fam­ily mem­bers. Unfor­tu­nately, our soci­ety has been designed into the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’ The desire for power leads to many evil both in the civil and reli­gious set­tings. It is this atti­tude that has con­tin­ued to mul­tiply on daily basis the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the home­less, the depressed, the poisoned, and the dead. Until we learn to avoid this evil, we shall always be faced with con­flicts, wars and auto-destruction.”

Prologue

Fol­low­ing Jesus’ warn­ing on the danger of not enter­ing through the nar­row door, and on the pro­vok­ing say­ing that many who are first will be last while many who are last will be first, some Phar­isees approached Jesus and asked him to leave because Herod intends killing him. Jesus sum­mar­ises his fear­less­ness, com­mit­ment and con­vic­tion with his strong reply “Go and tell that fox, behold, I cast out demons and I per­form heal­ings today and tomor­row, and on the third day I accom­plish my pur­pose. Yet I must con­tin­ue on my way today, tomor­row, and the fol­low­ing day, for it is impossible that a proph­et should die out­side of Jer­u­s­alem” (Luke 13:32–33). Jesus described Herod Anti­pas tetrarch of Galilee and Perea as a dog. Prob­ably, Jesus was teach­ing with­in this region (cf. Luke 3:1; Matt 14:1). Every deceit­ful and cun­ning per­son or ruler is a dog. And we have so many dogs in the world espe­cially here in Niger­ia both in the civil and reli­gious con­texts. After this, Jesus con­tin­ued his teach­ings and jour­ney to Jer­u­s­alem. Herod (or who­ever) can­not stop him. He must accom­plish the mis­sion entrus­ted unto him by the Father.

Jesus Provokes the Jewish Authority

This is the con­text of Luke 14:1.7–14. This Sunday Gos­pel provides fur­ther reas­on some people could be denied entrance to etern­al life. After the intro­duct­ory verse, Luke inserts anoth­er pas­sage (tech­nic­ally called inter­cal­a­tion) before giv­ing the details of Jesus’ activ­it­ies in the house of the Phar­isee. It was on the Jew­ish day of rest (Shabat) that Jesus went to dine in the house of the Phar­isee. Before sit­ting at the table, Jesus pro­voked the Jew­ish author­ity by doing what was pro­hib­ited on the day of rest – the heal­ing of a man with dropsy (edema). To the ques­tion “Is it law­ful to cure on the Sab­bath or not?” (Luke 14:3), the Scribes and the Phar­isees pre­ferred silence. Nat­ur­ally, Jesus went ahead and restored the man’s health. And to show them how unjust and selfish they were, he said to them “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not imme­di­ately pull him out on the Sab­bath day?” (Luke 14:5). Of course, they could not answer the ques­tion (cf. Luke 14:6) because they knew they were not inno­cent. This is the third and last of Jesus’ heal­ings on a Shabat accord­ing to Luke (for the oth­er two, cf. Luke 6:6–11; 13:10–17). It was at this point that Jesus told them the par­able in Luke 14:7–14). How did they react to this?

The Parable

Jesus uses every occa­sion to indic­ate to people the best ingredi­ents for a bet­ter soci­ety, and for a bet­ter and hap­pi­er life. He goes to the house of an illus­tri­ous Phar­isee to dine with him. And as an uncom­fort­able per­son­al­ity, those who think he con­sti­tutes obstacle to them kept fol­low­ing him not to learn from him but, to find fault with him. This is clearly under­lined in verse one which reads: One Sab­bath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prom­in­ent Phar­isee, he was being care­fully watched. He was care­fully watched by the pre­sumed holy Jew­ish author­ity and by the self-acclaimed right­eous Jews. Fool­ish and child­ish beha­viour indeed! Luke explains that the par­able became unavoid­able when Jesus saw how those invited by the Phar­isee were choos­ing places of hon­our at the table. One would have expec­ted Jesus to ignore those people. But how could he when teach­ing and bring­ing people on the right track was and still remains (through the Gos­pels) his mis­sion? Fur­ther­more, besides prov­ing that he does not dis­crim­in­ate against any­one, Jesus might have accep­ted the invit­a­tion of the Phar­isee because it would offer him the oppor­tun­ity to inter­act with the Jew­ish author­ity, since many of them were present for the din­ner. Def­in­itely, they were not expect­ing this. As usu­al, Jesus goes off script and does the unexpected.

Jesus Addresses the Invitees – The Call to Humility

As stated above, Luke 14:7–8 explains that Jesus told the invit­ees the par­able in vv. 9–11 when he saw how they struggled to occupy places of hon­our. The sum­mary or the teach­ing of this par­able is humil­ity. It is an invit­a­tion to be humble and to humble one­self. Although we doubt how Muslims under­stand it, even the Qur’an also recom­mends humil­ity (cf. Sūra LVII:16). Con­trary to what many Chris­ti­ans (and oth­ers) think, humil­ity is not a sign of the tra­di­tion­al Chris­ti­ans’ concept of spir­itu­al­ity, which is equi­val­ent to fool­ish­ness and weak­ness. In the Bib­lic­al sense, humil­ity (Greek: tapeinophrosunē) is free­dom from pride and arrog­ance. It is humble­ness and mod­esty; not exalt­ing one­self to the det­ri­ment of oth­ers. It is that qual­ity mani­fes­ted by Jesus (cf. Phil 2:8) and with which Paul served God through human­ity (cf. Acts 20:19). There­fore, Chris­ti­ans (and oth­ers) are entreated to con­serve this qual­ity and apply it in their inter­ac­tions with one anoth­er (cf. Eph 4:2; Phil 2:3; Col 3:12; 1Pet 5:5). To the humble, Jesus prom­ises the earth (cf. Matt 5:5). In the absence of humil­ity, pride takes place with all its char­ac­ter­ist­ics. In Luke 14:11, Jesus con­cludes his address to the invit­ees with these words “For every­one who exalts him­self will be humbled, but the one who humbles him­self will be exal­ted” (cf. also Matt 23:12). To be appre­ci­ated by God, we must be humble. This is the primary les­son of the First Read­ing (Sir 3:19–21.30–31). The invit­ees could be any of us.

Jesus Addresses the Host

In the last part of the epis­ode (Luke 14:12–14), Jesus gives an unpre­ced­en­ted teach­ing to his host, the renowned Phar­isee (and his invit­ees) con­cern­ing those he should not invite (v.12) and those he should invite (v.13), whenev­er he gives a lunch­eon or din­ner. The rad­ic­al­ism of Jesus’ teach­ing is once more under­lined by the do not (Greek: ) of verse 12 and the but (Greek: alla) of verse 13. Some might argue that Jesus exag­ger­ated in the sense that he should have said invite also…. But Jesus does not share in the mod­ern accom­mod­at­ing of things because of the urge to please people and be tagged ‘good.’ He speaks in a straight­for­ward man­ner. From Jesus’ words, the Phar­isee invited people of his class. In Luke 12:13–21, the rich farm­er was described as a fool and even his life taken away because of his con­tinu­ous use of the per­son­al pro­noun in the sin­gu­lar form. The implic­a­tion is that oth­ers (those in need) were no taken into con­sid­er­a­tion. The Phar­isee repeated he same error. Those he invited were those who had enough, leav­ing out those who had noth­ing. As far as Jesus is con­cerned, this was and still is a fun­da­ment­al error. An error that we are not even free from. He should not invite his friends, fam­ily mem­bers and his rich neigh­bours. Instead, he should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Why?

What is the Reason?

What is Jesus’ reas­on for insist­ing the Phar­isee should invite the needy and not the wealthy? The answer is because while the lat­ter can invite him back and reward him, the former has noth­ing to offer him. Although the needy can­not repay him, but he will be blessed and will even be repaid at the resur­rec­tion of the just (cf. Luke 14:14). While the pay­ing back of the wealthy is hori­zont­al and tem­por­al, that of the needy will be ver­tic­al and per­man­ent. By caring for the needy, the Phar­isee will be coun­ted among the just and will be rewar­ded accord­ingly. By caring for the needy, he will be seek­ing first the king­dom of God, the con­di­tion for gain­ing every oth­er thing (cf. Matt 6:33). The dir­ect con­sequence of humil­ity is right­eous­ness. Con­trar­ily, the dir­ect effect of pride is injustice.

The “We” in the Invitees and in the Host

The con­tem­por­ary soci­ety espe­cially, Niger­ia is struc­tured accord­ing to those the Phar­isee should invite and those he should not invite. The invit­ees and the host are reflec­tions of us. We are the rich who invite our fel­low rich friends and fam­ily mem­bers. Unfor­tu­nately, our soci­ety has been designed into the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’ I am sure the Phar­isee and oth­er invit­ees must have been dis­sat­is­fied with Jesus’ words.  Why should the Phar­isee not invite his likes? This is how today’s soci­ety func­tions. And this is exactly why we live in the midst of con­tinu­ous fight and unrest. We all want to be prom­in­ent and super­i­or. Almost every­body wants to be at the head and in this struggle for prom­in­ence mor­al­ity is insig­ni­fic­ant. It is no more the sur­viv­al of the fit­test. It is now the sur­viv­al of the knav­ish and the most cor­rupt. The guid­ing prin­ciple is ‘the end jus­ti­fies the means.’ Terrible!

We live in a soci­ety per­ver­ted by power tussle. Vir­tu­ally every per­son wants to be the ọga on top, issu­ing orders and receiv­ing obeis­ance from those who have been inca­pa­cit­ated from express­ing their opin­ion because they have been chained by false obed­i­ence. Niger­ia is a typ­ic­al example of this anom­aly. How many can­did­ates vie for the pres­id­ency, as gov­ernors, mem­bers of the Nation­al Assembly and loc­al gov­ern­ment chair­per­sons in this coun­try? What about the Reli­gious circle? Is it not the same music? Deadly and dan­ger­ous polit­ics at every angle. Reli­gious lead­ers who are ready to go to any extent just to become the ọga on top. An atti­tude and a dis­pos­i­tion that makes it easi­er to com­mit exactly the same sin of Cain. What a shame! What a scan­dal! Even among the faith­ful, the music­al notes remain the same – struggle for power, for recog­ni­tion, for title and for prom­in­ence. Jesus’ teach­ing that the greatest must be the ser­vant of oth­ers after the example of the Son of Man who came, not to be served but, to serve (cf. Mark 10:35–45) seems to be out­dated. We cite it dur­ing those orches­trated cere­mon­ies mis­takenly regarded as sol­emn, but which only serves to cov­er our empti­ness and deceive people. Thank God most people are wise enough to dis­tin­guish between appear­ance and reality.

Epilogue

Luke 14:1.7–14 should make us re-think our atti­tude towards power and recog­ni­tion. The thirst for these (power and recog­ni­tion) is the worst things hap­pen­ing to human­ity. Jesus emphas­izes fur­ther the rad­ic­al gen­er­os­ity and care that his dis­ciples are to show toward those who are phys­ic­ally impaired and eco­nom­ic­ally deprived. It is a chal­lenge. Jesus’ primary reas­on for hon­our­ing the invit­a­tion of the Phar­isee is to teach both the invit­ees (cf. Luke 14:7–11), the Phar­isee him­self (cf. Luke 14:12–14) and all of us, is to desist from power obses­sion, to avoid dis­crim­in­a­tion, to care for the phys­ic­ally and mater­i­ally less priv­ileged, and to be humble. The desire for power leads to many evil both in the civil and reli­gious set­tings. It is this atti­tude that has con­tin­ued to mul­tiply on daily basis the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the home­less, the depressed, the poisoned, and the dead. Until we learn to avoid this evil, we shall always be faced with con­flicts, wars and auto-destruc­tion. As you make your bed so you lie on it. Be wise! Do not ruin your life because of your love of power and recog­ni­tion. Be your­self always! Be ori­gin­al! Learn the wis­dom of humil­ity so that God can exalt you (cf. Jas 4:6.10; 1Pet 5:5–6). Remem­ber, God abhors the proud (cf. Sir 3). Only the just will exal­ted by God (cf. Ps 67). May God grant etern­al rest to the vic­tims of the ter­rible earth­quake that occurred in Italy on Wed­nes­day August 24, 2016. And may the dis­persed exper­i­ence the care and love of all of us, espe­cially, of the State. Amen! Have a nice week. Sha­lom!

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