A reading from the book of the prophet Sirach
(Chapter 3:17-18, 20, 28-29)
This is one of the few times in the liturgical cycles when we read from a book of Jewish writings that is not an accepted part of the Hebrew Bible. Yet, it is part of Jewish wisdom teaching. The first line is somewhat problematic: “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.” Do you think that is true? I suppose it depends on what gifts you are giving and whether you are looking for anything in return. A true giver of gifts such as love, compassion, honesty, and service does not look for anything in return and usually is a very humble person rooted in the truth.
(Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11)
“God, in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor.” If that is really true, God has a tremendous amount of work to do. We have more than a million homeless people here in our own country and hundreds of millions all over the world, especially refugees. Actually, it is more accurate to say that we humans are God’s partners in making a home for poor people.
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Hebrews
(Chapter 12:18-19, 22-24a)
The early Christians made a clear distinction between the Old Covenant that was approached in fear and the New Covenant that we approach in communion with Jesus and “the Spirits of the just made perfect.” So too, when we approach our Loving Father at the time of our death, we are not alone. We journey in the presence of the Holy Spirit and Jesus and all our previously departed loved ones. As Jesus says over and over again in the Gospels, we are never alone. He is always with us, not only in life but also as we pass from this life to the other ever-lasting life. It is so important for all of us to believe this, especially those in danger of death.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 14:1, 7-14)
At first, this seems like a perfect pairing with the first reading from the book of Sirach. The message again seems simple—be humble. That is only the first point, however.
There was a severe class distinction in ancient Israel that the prophets had railed against for centuries. The poor were exploited, often treated as little more than slaves. There is no way that a relatively well- off Pharisee in the time of Jesus would have even thought to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Then Jesus adds, “Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.”
There is no silver-bullet answer to ending or even reducing poverty. Everyone needs to share the table of plenty in America so that everyone can eat from the bounty of our great nation: the government at all levels, businesses both big and small, labor unions, faith communities, the super-rich and all of us. And we all need to do it without expecting a payback. God will reward us in ways we may never expect or understand. Actually, given where we live, we have already been rewarded in so many ways.
"The Lowest Places at the Feast" by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.