Saturday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time
Philippians 1:18b-26; Luke 14:1, 7-11
The famous evangelist Billy Graham dreamed that he died and went to Heaven. As he was escorted in, saints and angels cheered, congratulated him, and said to each other, “At last! Here he is! Here he is!” When our Lord greeted him, He said, “Yes, here he is, the man we have all been waiting for: Ruth Graham’s husband!”
Beyond the humor, Graham was touching on a theme that runs throughout the gospel of Luke. Theologians call it, “the Great Reversal.” We hear it in verses like, He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty-handed (Luke 1:53); Blessed are you who are poor… woe to you who are rich (Luke 6:20,24); (Lazarus) is comforted here, whereas you are tormented (Luke 16:25); and today’s: everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:11).
If this sounds less like reversal and more like divine justice, it’s for good reason. There is an element of justice to it. In his merciful love, God gives abundantly to those who have been denied, and will deny those who, of their own free will, have refused to show that same kind of love and mercy to others.
But there is more to it. The Great Reversal isn’t a reversal of fortunes, it’s a reversal of expectations. In his dream, Billy Graham ended up in heaven, just not for the reason he expected. Like him, we are tempted to look at “everything we’ve done for God” and, perhaps even unconsciously, expect something in return. Of course, the fact is that God owes us nothing, whereas we owe Him a debt we can never repay. The lesson is that, if we have any real expectation or hope at all, it should be the one St. Paul spoke of: thatChrist will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain (Philippians 1:20).
We can’t get to that point without being like Christ, we can’t be like Christ without humility, and we don’t have humility until we take an honest look at the gifts we’ve been given, remember who gave them to us, and ask ourselves what we’re doing with them. What gifts? Well, think about riches. If we’re not rich in money, then what about time, talent, or knowledge? Whatever it is, Jesus wants us to ask ourselves, “Do I thank God for it?” and “What would the world look like if I gave some of it away?” Again, think of St. Paul. Rich in love for Christ, he wanted only to be with him; as we heard, he was ready to die to do it. Nevertheless, he saw the need to serve the Church, to preach the gospel and encourage her members in the faith. In his humility, he let his guiding concern be not how he could satisfy himself, but how he could be of benefit to others.
Humility is a demanding gift, but a great one for that reason. It’s asking a lot to be given the riches of life but not become attached to them, to take pride in ourselves and our abilities without becoming proud, and to give all we can purely out of love for God, expecting nothing in return. But as we try more and more, we see more and more the reversal taking place in ourselves; that true poverty is having gifts but not sharing them, true torment is refusing the consolation of Truth, and that true pride is expecting God to honor us for whatever we’ve done.
The irony is that God does honor us; indeed, He is never outdone in generosity. We are invited guests to the greatest wedding banquet ever prepared – the feast of Christ’s Body and Blood. All we need bring with us is the hope and eager expectation of hearing him say to us when we come to his table, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position’ (Luke 14:10).