Are willing to take the lowest place?
By Father Timothy Hepner
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Aug. 14
Jeremiah 38:4-6,8-10; Psalm 40:2,3,4,18; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53
“Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” Jesus’ saying in the Gospel goes against the grain of common sense. Why would I be blessed because someone is unable to repay me? Our society seems to flourish on the law of reciprocity: make connections, do favors for people, and be kind to them, then it will come back to you in time. “Go to other people’s funerals so that they will go to yours.”
But this law of reciprocity causes jealousy and friction in relationships: If I do something for another, I feel they owe me, or if I compliment another I expect a compliment back. We begin to suspect the purity of others’ motives and wonder if they’re just being nice because they want something. Even worse, this attitude obscures the free, disinterested charity of God, making it hard to look at a crucifix and truly understand: he did that for me, and I did nothing to earn it. Christ stretched open his hands and let his enemies drive nails through them so that I could have the free gift of life.
We are children of a God who is merciful. He “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). He gives without seeking repayment and he loved us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). When a noble person takes a lower place, it shows his nobility. But when a small and petty person tries to take a higher place, it shines a light on their smallness and pettiness.
So when God chose to prove to us that his very identity is self-giving love (1 John 4:8), he went down to the lowest place, becoming man and choosing not to “grasp” at his divinity (Philippians 2:6). He showed us that he was so strong and noble that he didn’t need to display his strength and nobility.
RAISING US UP
There is a certain “holy pride” in being a child of God. We should act with the royal dignity that belongs to us, and be confident that Christ has raised our humanity to the highest place and seated us on a throne (Ephesians 2:6). But, because we are so noble, we ought to willingly take the lowest places like Jesus. We ought to honor others in our conversations before speaking about ourselves, yield to others in arguments where the only thing at stake is our pride, and quickly forgive those who offend us. “In humility, count others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
This is only possible with the grace that Jesus won for us on the cross. He “descended into the lower regions of the earth” (Ephesians 4:9) and he descends onto our altars every day in order to raise up our fallen, self-centered nature. The Son of God, who took the lowest possible place for us, can never be outdone in humble service of others. Like a servant, he washed our feet from the grime of sin. And when we humble ourselves with him, we are transformed. We let go of jealousy and petty grudges and gain a deep peace in our lives. Our motives become purer and we focus on how we can better serve others rather than on what is owed to us. Little by little, our selfishness and sin are quenched and our past sins are atoned for, as we hear in the first reading.
So as we approach Jesus in the Eucharist, confident that none of us deserve to be seated at this wedding feast, let’s ask him for the humility to take the lowest seat, as well as the confidence to accept the throne he has prepared for us in heaven.
FATHER TIMOTHY Hepner is vocation director of recruitment for the Diocese of Peoria. To learn more about vocations, go to comeandfollowme.org or follow the office at facebook.com/followmepeoria.