Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

My students are fascinated by the idea of Hell. Particularly in my morality class, the question of “is this a mortal sin” or “could someone go to Hell who…” comes up quite regularly. There is a general feeling that they don’t have to worry about Hell, but sometimes also a vague sense that they do. This feeling is one that many of us have. Most of us consider ourselves “good enough” to get into Heaven, but in our honest moments we know that we must still be on our guard. In many ways, today’s gospel (and the parable at the heart of the passage) addresses that feeling.

Jesus talks about people who consider themselves “good enough” to sit in a particular place at a wedding banquet, but are sadly mistaken. The parable itself is directed at the Pharisees who “were choosing the places of honor at the table.” The Pharisees generally follow the rules, and in most cases don’t come off as ill-willed. If anything, the Pharisees’ problem is that they simply have a robust self-esteem. But Jesus points out that their perception and reality might not match up. They might not be good enough after all.

Jesus’ advice: don’t just try and develop a more realistic image. The image you had before was what you thought was “realistic,” as well. Engage in what St. Ignatius would call agere contra—correcting a temptation to an extreme by choosing the opposite. Take the lowest place. Associate with people you cannot benefit (in any material sense) from knowing. Recognize that you do have a need for confession and the Eucharist. As we heed Jesus’ advice and act out of a sense of lowliness, rather than a sense of “good enough,” we allow the Father to say to us at the end of our lives “my friend, move up to a higher position.”

September 1st, 2013