2001 Sept 2 – FC Homily 22nd Sun Ord
Cycle C Homily 22nd Sun Ord
Lk 14, 1. 7-14
Sept 2, 2001 Homily
When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Lk 14:12)
by Fr Frank Cordaro Sept 2nd Sunday Sermon based on Luke 14:1, 7-14
Today’s parable from the Gospel of St. Luke is one of the most radical parable Jesus ever gave us. It goes to the heart of the socio/economic life of first century Palestine. And for those who have ears to hear, it speaks to the heart of our socio/economic system in this day, in this age, in this time.
We begin by unpack aging some of the historical stuff that will help us understand why this parable is so radical. We’re talking about what mealtimes meant in the first century Palestine and Mediterranean world. Most people today leave their homes and go to work and at lunch time, they take a break to eat.
Well, in Jesus’ day, lunchtime was work time. Mealtime was when the business of that day took place. I’m not talking about manual labor work. I’m talking about the movers and shakers who traded in commodities. You know: land deals, camel trading, olives, wine, the stuff that caravans brought …all such business took place at mealtimes. The meal table is where commerce happened in Jesus’ day.
Another thing about mealtime…that’s when the great gender-divide was most obvious. When I shared this reading at the nursing home on Friday, I said to the folks, “You know what I mean about that gender-divide….who does the cooking and who does the eating.” And all those women, most of the folks at the nursing home are women; they all knew what I was talking about. In rural Iowa, when I go to visit folks in their homes for special meals and family gatherings, it’s called the Great Midwest Divide. Did you ever see that happen? Where all the women end up in the kitchen and the guys are out watching a ball games?
In Jesus, day, this kind of gender division was intense. It was very, very clear. They were not nearly as open-minded as we are about the equality of the sexes. So women were nowhere to be seen except for serving the guys.
It’s not just the gender divide that’s going on. There’s a class, ethnic and race divide happening. These folks in the first century were very, very aware of these differences. At no other time are these social divided more pronounced than at mealtimes. So it was not just the guys who ate but the guys who were well placed in the patriarchal system. When they were doing their business, it was the independent males of the clan that got to eat.
This whole table based socio/economic world was based on a honor and shame system. For example, if you were hosting a meal, you were out to get as much honor as you could. And the way honor worked for the host, you wanted to invite quest who were more important than you. So if you got a meal going and you can get the mayor of the town to come, then the mayor’s honor would come to you and your household. So if you’re a host, you’re seeking the best type of guests you can get, and the more important the guests, the more honor you receive, the better business deals you can make.
In this world view, being invited is one thing, getting a seat of honor is another. So when you your most important guest comes to your meal, you made sure that that person gets the highest place of honor. And if you’re going to be doing any business deals, you’ve got to make sure you get the right people to sit by the right people to get the best deal. That’s the way things worked in the first century. That’s how important meals were done in the first century.
So let’s go to this weeks Gospel to see just how radical Jesus’s parable is. We find out right off the bat, that Jesus is visiting and dining at a leading Pharisee’s home on the Sabbath. So this isn’t an incidental meal. This is a planned meal, with all the socio/economic rules in play. Therefore the Pharisee, the host, who invited Jesus, is doing this for his own honor and the people who are his guest are like wise seeking honor in attending the meal.
We don’t know where Jesus ranked in with the ‘honored’ guest list. Its unlikely that he is the most important guest. It looks like Jesus was just one of the many invited guests. When Jesus comes into the dining area, everyone is watching him closely. They know he’s the radical preacher, who’s been in the neighborhood, and they’re probably wondering why he got invited at all.
Jesus notices that his fellow guests were jockeying for privileged seating position, something that comes naturally in this patriarchal honor-shame system. Jesus than tells a parable…a two sided parable, like the two sides of a coin… the same parable, with two parts yet one radical message.
In this two sided parable, Jesus gives specific advice to both dinner guests and host alike. To guests his advice, if you seek the places of honor in the Kingdom of God, than be humble of spirit and seek the lowest places of honor in this present life.
That’s only one side of this two sided parable. If separated by itself, it would lose its radical meaning. Left by itself this part of the parable would end up being the same personal advice for all and everyone, to be humble of heart and not self promoting. No different for rich and poor, black and white, president and migrant worker alike… but that’s not what this parable is about.
Yeah, Jesus is telling us to be humble heart and not self promoting when ever we are in “guest-like” situations, especially for those of us who are called to ministry in our Church. To that first generation of disciples and evangelist who were itinerate preachers, often relying on the generosity and hospitality of others, this was practical advice, a rule of thumb for traveling preachers and pilgrims alike..
The radical nature of this parable turns on the advice Jesus gives to host. To the host who seek a place of honor in the Kingdom of God Jesus first says, “When you hold a lunch or diner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your sisters or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors” (LK 14: ) for fear you will get repaid.
To the first hearers of the Gospel of Luke, this advice must have been most confusing. It must have left them scratching their heads, saying, “What’s Jesus talking about?” The only reason anyone would host a meal is so repay a guest for past favors or in debt a guest for future gains.
Than Jesus say’s instead if you want honor in the Kingdom of God, “when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” (LK 14: ) in gratitude that they can’t repay you.
Taken in it’s totality this parable is a radical critique of the soci/economic system of Jesus’s day. And taken as a metaphor for how human resources; the goods and products that people must have to live, might be distributed amongst all peoples, it offers practical concrete way to bridge the divide between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the powerless. If those who are rich would seek direct and personal means to get their excess wealth to those who are poor, and do this until all peoples basic needs are met, than what divides the rich from the poor would matter little and the interest of the powerful and the powerless would be the same.
Still, this parable, it’s not a group thing. It’s not an economic plan for the world. Because today’s capitalist would say to me,“You know, Father, if everyone did this, our whole economic system would fall down and there would be no rich to help the poor.” This parable is not a world economic plan, it’s a personal invitation. That’s what it is. This isn’t a policy a government can enact. Its an invitation made for you…for you…for you and for me. For those who have ambitions for the Kingdom of God, this is what striving for God’s Kingdom it looks like in the real world as it’s acted out by individual people.
And there are many ways in which this Kingdom ethic can be lived today. One concrete way I have seen this Kingdom ethic lived out is at the Des Moines Catholic Worker House. Because at the Worker House when we are doing our hospitality they way its suppose to be done, we treat our guests like the important people that they are in the eyes of God, Christ in our midst. And I’m going to tell you that some of our guests aren’t all that easy to take care of. The more difficult the guest, the more Christ like they become.
After our guest, the Kingdom pecking order is whoever does hospitality the best.
A couple of weeks ago on August 15, four of us Catholic Workers went out to the Iowa State Fair with some banners and posters of Iraqi children who are suffering under U. S. sanctions and we got arrested in front of some of the weapon systems they had on display at the Fair. No big deal. We Catholic Workers get arrested all the time. But the point I’m trying to make is that when they reported it in the Des Moines Register, the story said “Father Frank Cordaro and some of his followers.” Oh, God, that’s the worst thing they could have said. Let me tell you, there are no followers of Fr Frank at the Des Moines Catholic Worker. We are a community of Christian anarchist, we have no designated leaders or appointed director.
At the Worker House, leadership is done by example, not by command. We’re all individuals, personalists, who measure our leadership and authority within the community by how well we do the hospitality. And in that pecking order, I’m somewhere in the middle of the pack, friends.
I’m going to tell you about a guy who we believe at the DMCW, is our St. Francis. And if he were here today, he would be mortified that I’m even mentioning his name. I’m talking about Eddie Bloomer. If you come to the Worker and meet Eddie, you’re going to meet a modern day St Francis. Eddie is a military veteran. He’s got a great mind and is well read. He’s in his 50’s. He’s on disability. He takes psych dope. When he’s on his medicine, you’ll not find a better servant for the poor. When he’s off his meds, he’s in a little trouble and we got to watch out for him.
People often pass me by and go find Eddie because he’s the guy who’ll go the extra mile and get them better food, better clothes than I will. He is our living example of todays parable ethic lived out. In the pecking order of the DMCW, Eddie Bloomer is our leader because he’s the most hospitable guy in our community.
In our journey as Kingdom people there’s room for ambition, but it’s ambition to seek the lowest places. It’s a race to give as much as you have away as soon as you can. In the pecking order of the Kingdom of God, the greatest in the community are the least, the smallest, the most insignificant. If you screw your head on that way, and start seeing the world from this “upside down” perspective, and walking that path, that’s when you’re living this parable to the fullest. It’s one of the most radical payables in the New Testament.