Psalm:Psalm 68:4-7, 10-11
Second Reading:Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24
Gospel:Luke 14:1, 7-14
Being little has its advantages. My sister's two-year old little Therese can get much of what she wants because she is little. If she wants a banana on the kitchen table, all she has to do is point to it and her mama or daddy will get it for her. If she can't see something, even when she is on her tiptoe, all she has to do is open up her arms to reach for one of her uncles, and we are more than glad to stoop down to lift her up. At this age she is also very docile. When I tell her to bring over fresh diapers for her little brother, she'll bring it without hesitation. When I want a kiss from her, all I have to do is tap on my cheek with one of my fingers and she'll run over to give me a kiss. In a year or two there is going to be a change in her personality. She'll begin to assert herself and mimic what the adults do. She'll learn the powerful word 'no,' and will use it on every occasion. I'll say “Therese bring the diaper bag,” and she'll say “No!” Her mama will say, “Therese, eat your vegetables,” and she'll say “No!” She'll also rummage through her mama's purse and dig out make-up and try to put it on her face like her mama does.
Little Therese will be “getting too big for her pants” as the saying goes. Applied to children this phrase implies that the child is insisting that she be treated as older or bigger than she really is. When this phrase is applied to adults, it implies that a person is becoming so 'swollen' with conceit or an exaggerated sense of their own self importance that their pants no longer fit. It is not a flattering phrase for adults. Nor was it a flattering phrase for those who attended a dinner party for a leading Pharisee.
Our Lord, seeing how some of the dinner guests were jockeying for the places of honor at the table, said in essence that some of them acted as if they were getting too big for their pants. Some of these people had exaggerated sense of self-importance to the point that they thought they deserved to be at the head table. They thought they had such a close relationship with the man of the house that surely he would have asked them to be at the head table anyway. How embarrassing and humbling in front of other guests, that they were asked to go to the last table where the least important guests are seated. As Jesus said, "For everyone who exalts themselves will be humbled." Those who were getting too big for their pants will be put back in their rightful place. Jesus then instructs us, "When you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, 'My friend move up to a higher position.'”
Our Lord puts us back into our place--that is, he humbles all of us not to be presumptuous about our relationship with Him. Yes, we are given the privilege to be children of God through our Baptism. But it was a gift from God, not something we deserved or earned. We are invited in this life and in the next to be in the eternal banquet with God. But this invitation was also a gift from Him. None of us can boast that we have earned our way to the head table. We can never repay God for this invitation, for what can we, frail and weak creatures possibly do for Almighty God who created the universe and sustains all living things by His sheer gift. In God's eyes, we are only humus, dirt of the earth molded in his hand and animated by His breath. If we are talented, gifted, well respected, and well-off, it's because we are mere clay jars where God has, for the time being, decided to store these gifts. We never know when God will empty out our jars, for our health, talents, and wealth can be shattered at any moment. If we think we are anything other than a little molded clay jar, then we are getting too big for our pants.
But there is an advantage to being little and frail. And St. Therese of Lisieux has discovered this secret. She calls it the "Little Way." She knew in her heart that she desired to become a saint, and she knew that God did not place this desire in her heart if He did not intend to fulfill it. She knew that she was little, frail, and full of faults; she was humble for humility in knowing the truth that she was only a fragile clay jar. Despite her littleness, she was resolved to find a way to reach heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight. At that time, lifts or elevators were just being invented. Using this image, St. Therese was determined to find an elevator to carry her to Jesus, for she was far too small to climb the steep stairs of perfection. Then she discovered in scripture, "Whosoever is a little one, come to me." This was a marvelous discovery. Jesus was going to be the elevator to lift her to heaven. She said, "It is your arms, Jesus, that are the lift to carry me to heaven. And so there is no need for me to grow up: I must stay little and become less and less." St. Therese's "Little Way" is then trusting in Jesus to make her holy and relying on small daily sacrifices instead of great deeds. She smiled at sisters she didn't like. She ate everything she was given without complaining. She took blame for small mishaps even when she wasn't at fault. Her little sacrifices went unnoticed by others. Therefore when she died, no one suspected that she would eventually be recognized as one of the greatest saints of the Church. But as Jesus instructs us today, " Whoever humbles herself will be exalted."
In a few years my two-year old niece Therese will not remember the time when she was little enough that she could open up her arms to have her Uncle Paul lift her up. But I'll be sure to tell her when she is too big to be lifted that she should be like St. Therese, to remain humble and to trust Jesus to make her holy by her small daily sacrifices.