28th August 2016
The first reading is from Ecclesiasticus (3:17-29 passim) also called the Book of Sirach; it is what might be called a deutero-canonical book because its status as part of the canon (or official collection) of Scripture which was not recognised by Jews resident in Israel; Protestant Bibles follow this shorter collection of the Old Testament. Sirach was used by Jewish scholars and is included in the early Greek version of the Jewish Bible (the Septuagint), and it is in Catholic bibles. This wisdom about how to live good lives pleasing to God is expressed so beautifully and simply in our reading. This proverbial wisdom speaks to us even today in our different situations.
The second reading from Hebrews (12:18-24 passim) really sets one thinking about how we view God and our response to Him. The author refers to how the Jews at first encountered God; it was a frightening experience of fire and terror; He was a mighty and powerful God and they were His. But the author then wants to tell them to leave this behind, because as followers of the Way of Jesus they now should see God differently; now they are approaching heaven, the ideal Jerusalem, where God’s Son, Jesus, has set up a new covenant – a new relationship with God – and the unbelievable is possible.
The gospel we have for today (Luke 14:7-14) introduces the context with verse 1: “On a Sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.” The Pharisees were like a sect; they were a section of the Jewish believers who were very keen on keeping all the rules and thereby gaining (earning and deserving) the blessing of God; and often, one might suspect, they looked down on the ordinary folk who lacked this – what they would call uprightness of piety. The Christians had, or should have had, a quite different attitude towards God and their acceptance by Him; they should feel unworthy even though leading good lives and should view any blessing (and salvation) as a gratuitous gift from God. Meals were an important social occasion for the host; at a meal he could make friends with the most influential people and show off the grandeur of his living; for those invited it was an opportunity to become closer to influential people and so progress in one’s standing in society. The most interesting thing is that today’s gospel reading makes these social customs into a parable; a parable is something that points to something else which works in a parallel way; the account about meal etiquette then becomes about our relationship with God and the religious way we should live; because of our humility we should not expect reward although we believe in the grace of God. So here, as in the passage from Hebrews in the second reading, the message is about the contrast between one way of life and the way it should be for Christians, whose righteousness comes from God and for whom self-righteousness, as of the Pharisees, is not the way forward: you cannot deserve or earn salvation and God’s love.