Sunday Homily – 22nd Sunday C

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

In Australian culture, one of the most insulting things we can say to another is this: ‘You’re a loser!’ It’s just as bad as saying: ‘You’re a no-hoper!’ We often hear this kind of insulting talk on talk-back radio. Such callers not only show how out of touch their simple solutions are for complex problems but also how rude and nasty they can be to fellow human beings.

Once upon a time on a Sunday morning, a family was rushing from their car to the church. They had been slightly delayed because torrential rain had caused flooding of the local streets and slow driving on the main road. The mum in the family was to be a Eucharistic minister and the dad was scheduled to proclaim the First Reading. As they hurried to the door from the parking lot, they passed a homeless man selling a bi-weekly paper, the proceeds of which went to help the homeless. When they saw him, the parents looked the other way and urged their children to hurry up. When their daughter dared to ask why they didn’t buy the paper, the dad replied: ‘That’s just a rip-off. If those people would just get jobs, we wouldn’t have to put up with them in front of our church. They don’t belong here, so we shouldn’t encourage them.’ The dad who prided himself on being an excellent reader, felt very proud of his effort that day when people told him how well he read the words about the need for humility, gentleness, and kindness.

In another parish, the organizers stopped serving tea, coffee, and biscuits after Mass. Why? ‘Because,’ they growled, ‘the homeless kept coming here for them.’

Such attitudes are the very opposite of those of our Leader, Jesus Christ. During his life on earth, his welcome, hospitality, kindness, understanding, compassion, and support, for people who were poor, powerless, broken, rejected, struggling, and suffering was so obvious that he was called ‘the friend of outcasts’. His attitudes are summed up in his advice to his followers in the gospel today: ‘When you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means you are fortunate because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.’ 

Fortunately, there are still people who take the teaching of Jesus seriously. A former Governor-General, Sir William Deane, a committed Catholic Christian, imitated the humanity of Jesus, in his warmth, care, and affection for all kinds of people. You may remember his trip to Switzerland to grieve with the parents of the young people lost in a fast river following an avalanche, and his handing out to their parents sprigs of wattle to place in the stream as mementos of their lost children. His whole attitude was summed up when for his last official function, he invited a group of homeless young people to have lunch with him.

What do people remember and treasure most of all about the late Diana, Princess of Wales? Was it not her decision to use her worldwide fame and glamour to help the homeless, the sick, the maimed, and the suffering? And so again and again we saw her cuddling babies with incurable diseases, taking off her gloves to shake hands with patients dying of Aids, greeting the mentally ill with a big bright smile, and running an energetic campaign that took her halfway around the world to rid the earth of land-mines.

A school girl tells how when she came back into class after lunch her pencil case was missing. She told the teacher. The teacher found out the child who stole it and gave her a dressing-down in front of the whole class. She was from a very poor family. The next day the mother of the first girl went out and bought a new pencil case for the child who had none. 

In one suburb a rather wealthy woman lives in a big house on a hill. Not many people know about this, but at night she drives around in a van and gives out sandwiches and hot chocolate to people spending the night in doorways, tram and bus shelters, and on park benches. In one parish, the priest took out three rows of pews near the front so that wheel-chair restricted persons would not have to park by the doors like unwelcome guests. Another parish welcomes mentally retarded adults from a local facility to Sunday Mass. They make a bit of noise. Some parishioners are not happy about this, but the Parish Council says that the warm welcome tells them that God too welcomes them and loves them. 

In our district, area, or suburb, is there someone we are aware of, who regularly gets left out? Could we consider inviting them home for our next barbecue, or having them along to our next picnic, or at least going out of our way to talk with them? Is there someone else who used to be with us at Mass on Sunday, but for whatever reason has dropped out? What about inviting that person to join us once again? Has a new family moved into our town, district, or area lately? What about going out of our way to meet them and help them settle in? Perhaps with a cake or a casserole!

Welcome, warmth, and hospitality! They were big things with Jesus. And consistently so! What about us, who have promised to follow him and live like him? Our Holy Communion, i.e., our sharing of the food God gives us, the food in which Jesus is really present, is not meant to stop at the altar, but to send us from our community to be Jesus Christ to others, bringing them the nourishment of his welcome, and the warmth and care of his hospitality, to anyone and everyone who needs them, and right there and then.

Brian Gleeson is a Passionist priest, and a member of the Passionist community in Endeavour Hills, Melbourne.