22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Moving Up and Out

The Gospels for the last few weeks have brought back to mind the stories of the first disciples: how they were called from among ordinary people; what they were called to do; and what Jesus told them they could expect by preaching the "Good News of Salvation." As in all passages of the Scriptures, this ongoing re-telling of the episodes of Christ's life is part of our Tradition, part of our history as Christians and part of our history as a community of believers.

But it is also part of our call to discipleship. Like the first followers of Jesus, we too are called to His mission. Over the last few weeks, we have heard about our own role in bringing that mission to others: to proclaim to the whole world that Our Father loves us all, that He forgives us, and that He is waiting to embrace us with open arms, if only we let Him. Fulfilling our role as disciples must begin with giving permission to God to work through us. It is then up to us to act on his Spirit moving within us.

Jesus was, for all practical purposes, a man with a dream - and the secret to success in the Christian life is sharing Christ's dream for his people. We are His people - called to bring His healing touch to all we meet, as only we can. It may not be easy. Perhaps it was never meant to be easy.

The story in today's Gospel has much to teach us about God and about ourselves. In the Gospel of Luke, a banquet was always associated with the Eucharist, and so Jesus' teachings around a table alert us to what Luke also wants to teach us about Eucharist. Luke presents his gospel in a way that makes the Eucharist and Christ's message inseparable. He does this by framing his gospel narrative as a great journey; and along the way, meals and hospitality play a critical role for Jesus and his followers. The disciples are people who have received hospitality and reclined at table with Jesus and so they must be like their Master and offer similar hospitality to others, especially the poor and outcast.

But there is a great obligation that comes along with this: to bring the principles of the Gospel out of the church building to the market place, to the home, to the work place. We have to give courageous witness to our own concern for the rights of others, for the dignity of each individual, for justice and honesty in our relationship with others.

The message of Jesus is not one of silent meekness. It is a challenge to action, a call to giftedness, to peace, to mutual respect and support. In the Gospel, Jesus sets down a very basic principle: Be willing to be considered the last, and the least - and then prove yourself. Let your goodness, your gifts become evident, so that you will be invited to "come up higher." Be respectful of those around you; acknowledge talent and effort and success in others, without jealousy or envy. As you move upward, bring others up with you. Be a peacemaker, a reconciler, not a spoiler or a divider.

There needs to be a shift in our perception of God, from The One who looks down on us, to The One who looks upon us with love, and can smile at what he sees. To think correctly about the Church, we must adapt our vision accordingly. We must realize that we are not simply a liturgical church, concerned only with rubric and the "how" of worship. We are a Eucharistic community, which gathers together to be nourished by the bread of Life and who leave the table to become that bread for others. This is the ministry that Jesus calls us to.

I see most people making their way to God in the daily grind of life, coping with relationships, loving, forgiving, finding time for each other, surviving hurt and bearing pain and loneliness. There are so many persons, organized or not, who truly minister to those of their community in need. Many of these "grass-roots" movements go unnoticed - most would shun the notoriety, anyway. But real ministry is going on, real service, true "tending of needs." And most of these folks see very little of importance in the needless debates of the "experts" in religious business.

But I also see the need for a Church which supports the multitude in their struggle and search, and offers hope and healing. We need to be seen and to be concerned for people in their real issues. The Christian is the person who knows how to live the present, anticipating in certainty and hope, the moment of the final fullness. The disciple makes active - now - that powerful cry from the Scriptures: "Come Lord Jesus." And he enables his brothers and sisters to do the same.

Thomas Merton once wrote that the only way in which we can at last enter into the possession of the reality of God, which lies at the very roots of our existence, is to stop talking about it - and to grasp the reality... laying our hands on it, by just living it out in our daily lives.

Only then will we truly come to know who Jesus is, and who we really are.