We do not need false appearances because we are citizens of heaven

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday of Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

What commonsense Jesus teaches in the Gospel today (Luke 14:1,7-14); live humbly and you will not be embarrassed. Why would someone be so foolish to exalt himself and let himself be open to the possibility of embarrassment later? It sounds like a pretty desperate attempt at getting recognition. Look at me! Look where I am sitting! It sounds like such a person is hurting inside or lacking interior peace and compensating by emphasizing external appearances. We might say such a person needs a retreat to experience powerfully God’s love and live from God’s love instead of living from the vanity and emptiness of external appearances. Those who promote themselves are unfortunately a source of amusement for others. In the parable in today’s Gospel you can imagine the amusement of onlookers when someone is moved to a lower table. We remember the amusement brought to us by the character Hyacinth Bucket in the TV series Keeping Up Appearances who insisted that her name be pronounced Bouquet.

When we know who we really are - children of God - then we don’t need to keep up false appearances and we can be who we really are without any varnish. The second reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews gives us a description of heaven,

“…you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…(Heb 12:22-24)

This is what God has planned for us, our future is out of this world, “the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven.” We are among those firstborn since our baptism, God’s own children, and our names are enrolled in heaven since baptism, or as another translation puts it, we are citizens of heaven. Therefore as Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit. (1 Cor 2:9)

Yes, what God has prepared for us is beyond our imagining. Not only that, but from the beginning of time God planned this for us, for you. As we read in the letter to the Ephesians,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. (Eph 1:3-4)

Yes, we are chosen before the foundation of the world. You are not the result of an accident; you are a special part of God’s plan. That plan cost God; so twice Paul reminded the Corinthians,

“you have been purchased at a price.” (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23)

What is that price? The blood of Jesus. That is how much it cost God to purchase you, the precious blood of Jesus. That is how much you are worth. You are worth the precious blood of Jesus. You are priceless. There were more problems in the church Paul founded in Corinth - or you might want to say the parish he founded in Corinth - than in any other church or parish he founded. How did Paul respond? He reminded them of who they were. Priceless, purchased by the blood of Jesus.

When we reflect on who we are, we realize that our concern is not to be about externals here now, or as the person in the parable seeking the best place, but rather how we may best live here and now the spiritual reality of who we really are, “firstborn enrolled in heaven,” citizens of heaven, knowing that what God has prepared for us has not been seen or heard or even entered the human heart but we were chosen before the foundation of the world and we have been purchased by the blood of Jesus. If we constantly bear this dignity in mind what a difference it would make to our lives. Then some of Jesus’ teaching takes on new significance, such as

I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? (Matt 6:25-26)

There is another change in attitude and action that takes place in our life if we truly understand who we are. We realize that what God has planned for us, God has planned for everyone. Therefore everyone is special and precious because everyone is God’s firstborn enrolled in heaven and purchased at a price. There are many divisions and prejudices in society, many different ways of labeling people, many stereotypes of people in society but they are not from God. These divisions, prejudices, labels and stereotypes in society show that society has not yet arrived at understanding who we really are. If we constantly bear our dignity in mind and society had fully embraced the Gospel of Jesus, then the second part of Jesus’ teaching today would not not so radical,

…When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors…Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind...(Luke 14:12-13)

The Church is called to be the place where there are no divisions, labels, prejudices and stereotypes. While God calls us to serve in different ways in the Church, the Church is to be the earthly reflection of heaven we heard in our second reading,

“…you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…(Heb 12:22-24)

We don’t need to worry about keeping up false appearances when we know who we really are, citizens of heaven. Our concern is not in seeking the first place but in living the spiritual reality of who we are, priceless, purchased by the precious blood of Jesus. As we realize who we are and who everyone else is, we see that the divisions and prejudices of society show that society has not yet arrived at an understanding of what society is called to be.

What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit. (1 Cor 2:9)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Twenty-Second Sunday Year C

Be Gentle in carrying out your business

Related Homilies: What motivates you? God’s Love for you or your love of yourself? 2009

We are all equal in dignity before God

The journey from pride to humility

The greatest among you must be your servant

Book excerpt: Ruth Burrows on humility

stories about humility