Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Sirach 3: 17-18,20,28-29
Hebrews 12:19-19,22-24a
Luke 14: 1,7-14


August 28-29, 2004, Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Some people take today’s Gospel as a practical lesson in party-going etiquette from Jesus. But this is not just a little etiquette tip from Jesus; it is a parable. As I said last month, Jesus used parables to shake people up a little so that the parable could draw them into a deeper truth. Today’s parable is no exception. This section of Luke’s Gospel is a series of insights into the nature of the kingdom of God. With today’s parable, Jesus focuses on the complete gratuitousness of the kingdom. No one can earn their way into it; it is an outright gift from God. The whole notion of sitting people according to rank is foreign to most of us, unless we have had to coordinate state dinners at the White House but it was deeply ingrained in the culture of Jesus’ time. The Pharisees and scribes felt they deserved the best seats because they earned them by studying the Law and putting it into practice. They projected this notion of earned rewards onto God and God’s kingdom. Jesus is telling them that that’s not how it is.

A man died and found himself before the pearly gates. As he started to go in, St. Peter appeared and stopped him, saying, “You can’t just go in, you need to have 1,000 points before you can enter.” The man replied, “How do I get points?” St. Peter asked him, “Well what can you tell me about your life?” The man puffed up a little and said, “I have attended Mass every morning since I became an adult, and every evening I have said the rosary.” He was sure this was the clincher. St. Peter said, “Great, that’s 1 point. What else do you have?” The man was stunned, and frantically searched his memory, “I gave 20% of my income to charity and I served on the St. Vincent DePaul society, and always gave a few dollars to the homeless people I passed on my way to work.” St. Peter nodded, “That’s good. That’s another point. What else?” The man was panicking now, “I don’t have anything else. It will take the grace of God to get me in.” St. Peter smiled and said, “There’s your 1,000 points. Come right in.”

Unfortunately we haven’t learned much in the 2,000 years since Jesus told this parable. For the most part, we still pretty much think of the kingdom of God as something that we have to earn our way into. Jesus makes it quite clear: the kingdom of God is a gift from God, pure, gratuitous gift. No one can earn it. All we can do is prepare our selves for it, and respond to it when we receive it. I know I have said this many times but I think the root of the problem is that we think if we aren’t earning our way into the kingdom, then there is no need to be “good”. As I was watching the Olympics this week, I thought of another way of looking at it. What if the Olympic gymnastics finalists were picked not through a series of competitions that narrowed the field down to the few that compete but the committee just went around and picked anyone they wanted. Pure gift. Of all the people who might be picked to compete on that stage with billions of people looking, who would be able to taste the fullness of being an Olympic gymnast, someone who never practices and trains, or the athlete that has trained and prepared for the various exercises?  

Jesus tells the people at that dinner that the kingdom of God is a gift from God, but in order to fully enjoy that gift, we must be humble; we must empty ourselves and let God work in us and through us. We must stop focusing on what we must do to earn the points to get into the kingdom, and instead focus on spreading the good news that God gives us this gift and we need to make ourselves ready to receive it. In practical terms, this means feeding those who are hungry, sheltering those who are homeless because until those basic needs are taken care of, a person cannot start preparing to receive the kingdom. And above all, we need to stop judging others because in that very act we cease to be humble, and that makes us unprepared for the kingdom.

It was the end of the world, and there was a great crowd outside the gates of heaven waiting for judgment. The crowd was made up of the people you saw around church every week, some Eucharistic ministers from St. Bridget’s, a few of the PPC members from St. Elizabeth’s, the St. Vincent DePaul crowd, and so on. They were all greeting one another and smiling in anticipation when all of a sudden a dark murmur started through the crowd, growing at last to a dull roar. The word had come that God was letting all those others in, you know, the people that never came to church, who dropped their kids off at Religious Ed and picked them up and went home, the C & E Catholics, the people who brought their kids for baptism and you never saw them again until it was time for First Eucharist. God had let them in. The roar turned from disbelief to anger, “How can God do that. We worked so hard all those years.” All of a sudden there was a great trumpet blast and the roar died away to silence as they all realized that judgment had come and they were still outside the gates.

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