"You Are God's Chalice"
by: Deacon Paul Rooney
[a reflection on Luke 14:7-14,
22nd Sunday Ordinary "C"]
22nd Sunday Ordinary "C"]
All of us have all heard the old expression, "if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours." It's current meaning is a rather simple one: you do me a favor, and I'll do one for you in the future. I don't know if it is true or not, but I'm told that it might possibly have its origin in the navy slang or jargon. In the English Royal Navy during the 17th century, if you were a sailor or seaman and became drunk or disobedient while on duty, or simply showed up late to your ship, the punishments could be quite severe. One punishment would see the offender tied to the ship’s mast, and then be flogged by another crew member with a leather lash (known as a "cat o’ nine tails"). Well, sailors being sailors in those days, their behavior led them to earn this punishment quite often! So it didn't take crew members long to strike up a secret deal between themselves! They would promise each other that they would deliver only light lashes with the whip, just barely ‘scratching’ the back' of the offender. That would be their insurance policy: in case they ever got a similar punishment in the future, they were to be treated the same!(1)
In today's gospel [Luke 14:7-14] we hear about a more "subtle" and different type of back-scratching going on. The rich religious leaders are inviting only other rich religious leaders to their banquets. That way the invited guests would become obligated to scratch the host's back in the future with an invitation to a "pay-back" banquet. That's the way it worked in that so-called "honor and shame" society; everyone was selfishly seeking more honor. They even scrambled in a rush to get the seats closest to the Host - - kind of a rich man's version of "musical chairs"! If you got a good seat, it was more honor for you, and less honor for someone else...or so they thought.
Jesus, of course, sees a teachable moment in just about every human situation. This one is certainly no different. He was probably only invited because the Host expected him to be the night's entertainment, if he would perform a miracle for them. As you might expect, Jesus not only challenges the people in their behavior, he also challenges the system that encourages such a disordered approach to life.
First, let's look at the system. It is pretty obvious, isn't it, that it is based on self-seeking? It is all about class discrimination, as well as reciprocity or "back-scratching." Nothing in that gospel scenario even hints of Christianity, of the virtue of self-giving, of generosity.
Then look at the behavior of the Invitees. Like you, I've been to large dinner parties or banquets that start out with cocktails and conversation. Everyone is standing around talking; but it usually becomes pretty obvious that a few folks spend the entire pre-dinner time "maneuvering" or "jockeying" themselves into a position to secure a table very close to the head table. Nothing seems to change over the centuries, does it! J
So what can a Christian take away from this banquet story in the Gospel of St. Luke? Well, we Irish have a saying for everything. Here is one that seems to apply to daily behavior: "Do the best thing right now; our lives are brief, but you're dead a long time." The "best thing"? Well, how about an example... About a dozen years ago there was a movie called "Pay It Forward." It was about a young school boy whose homework assignment was to come up with an idea that would "change the world." His idea was to repay a good deed with new good deeds done for three new people. When his idea was put into action, it brought immediate change: in his family, and in a widening circle of recipients of the good deeds "passed forward."
Our lives are indeed brief, and we will indeed be "dead a long time," so to speak. So we need to put our Christ-life into action, and we never do it alone! (This is one reason that parishes like ours are promoting "Small Faith Communities" so strongly; it is one way to stay connected, and to "pass forward" what we are learning on our own individual faith journeys.) It takes humility to be a self-less and generous Catholic; it takes humility to share our faith journey with others. But this is what we are all called to do. No one sits at the heavenly banquet table without humility, faith, and right-living. And no one sits there without a "full chalice."
You see, by faith we are a connected people, connected by love. The first sinners in The Garden rejected God's love, and turned inward. God sent his Son to turn that around. Now he wants us to continue his mission, to become
Intercessors for others, apostles for the physically and spiritually poor, crippled, lame, and blind (Luke 14:13). There is a beautiful definition of an apostle that I love (from Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey), and I quote: "An apostle is a chalice full of Jesus that pours out its overflow upon souls. Be full of Jesus, full of Divine life, and you will be apostles."(2) This is our call and our mission! As St. Paul would say to the Colossians, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). When you pray the Morning Offering every day, it begins with a desire to join our prayers and sufferings for others to the cross of Jesus. Our chalice is filled to overflowing when we ask the Lord to "inflame our hearts with the fire of divine love." And then we pour out that chalice in our intercessory prayer and suffering for others.
Above all, remember the Good News: the love of Jesus is total and unconditional. There are no strings attached to his love, no back-scratching motives! He desires that each believer become an apostle, a chalice to be poured out on others and consumed by others. And that gives us all Hope and Faith in His mercy and loving forgiveness! So like St. Thérèse, ask the Lord to fill your chalice to the brim!(3)
- Deacon Paul Rooney
(3) See "Story of a Soul," p.180-181; translation by John Clarke OCD; ICS Publications, Washington, D.C., 2nd ed., 1976.