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Twenty Second Sunday: Year C

1st Reading:  Sirach 3:17-20 28-29
2nd Reading:  Hebrews 12:18-19 22-24
Gospel:  Luke 14:1.7-14

Attitudes are very important. The way in which we face situations in our lives has a great bearing on whether the end result is life giving or destructive. We are all influenced by our past and by our upbringing. We carry with us a baggage of experiences happy or abusive which condition our way of tackling certain situations which arise from time to time in our lives. Our prejudices and preconceived ideas have a great bearing on how we relate to others. If I approach a person knowing full well that deep down within me I have grudges against that person then the result of our encounter is going to be pretty predictable. On the other hand if I approach that particular person with an open heart and with the explicit attitude to try to explore how this particular relationship can be nurtured in spite of certain bitter and hurtful experiences from the past, then there is definitely a much better chance that the end result would be more positive and life giving. We need to pay attention as to what frame of mind we are experiencing as we tackle a particularly difficult situation or person.

All these thoughts come to my mind as I read slowly the first verse of today’s gospel. “On a Sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees and they watched me closely” (Lk 14:1). To me that phrase “watched him closely” says many things. The people in that house were not positively disposed towards Jesus. When you watch a person closely means that you have serious doubts about that person. You are not so sure about the authenticity of that person’s actions or words. This is precisely the kind of atmosphere that Jesus walked in on that Sabbath day. He must have felt that he has just stepped into a refrigerator where people looked at him without exhibiting or exuding any warmth. He must have felt very alone and not so sure what his next step ought to be. He knew deep down in his heart that he was just an object of curiosity for most of the people in that house and moreover he must have had the intuition that these people were in that house to size him up with no genuine openness to what he had to say. Jesus must also have felt caught in a trap. Yes it is good to be invited but invited for what reason. It could be that Jesus that he was tricked by his host by being invited into a situation of cautiousness, suspicion and uncertainty. Yet he stayed.

I am sure that all of us have been caught up in similar situations. I am sure that we have often found ourselves in situations where we wished that we were not there. I have been in situations where I was invited to a party for a family celebration where as soon as I entered you noticed that people are simply polite to you while others give you a quick look and then continue with their conversations pretending that they are too busy to even notice that you have arrived. I am sure that at times there are situations where we have said “What am I doing here. I do not think that I am wanted and I will take the first opportunity to get away from this place and from this company of people”.

Jesus stayed. Moreover he talked to them. How did he do it? He had a great attitude of knowing that every person has a dignity as created by God. Consequently he treated everyone with respect and tried to use every opportunity to make them understand and appreciate their own goodness as being created by God. Negative feelings towards him did not deter him from trying to plant the good word of encouragement and compassion. He knew who he was. He did not have any identity crisis.

What a great lesson for us. When we find ourselves in similar situations let us remember that we are never alone. God is with us. “It is no longer I who lives” says St Paul, “rather it is Christ who live in me”. (Gal 2:20). When we approach such situations with the attitude that God is caring, protecting and encouraging me right at that moment I am enabled with the necessary reassurance that I am a source of blessing to those who are around me. I can therefore exhaust all forms of negativity that I might experience and turn that moment into an opportunity where much good can be achieved. God can turn unexpected and unsure encounters into moments of healing and grace.

I learnt this lesson when I was a chaplain in one of the big hospitals in Melbourne. One of the hardest things for me during that time as a chaplain was to look at premature babies. The sight of such babies upset me so much. One day I was called to the hospital to attend a women who had just had a miscarriage. She held the little fetus wrapped in a towel in her hand. When she saw me, she unwrapped the towel, displayed the fetus and said “Father please baptise Richard”. My first reaction was panic and uncertainty and I could not hold my eyes on that small fetus but then I felt Jesus saying to me “Stop looking at the fetus through your own eyes but look with my own eyes. That is not just a lump of flesh. I see a person who I care about and love. That little creature has a dignity just as much as you have because I care for both of you with the same love”. I then baptised conditionally that brother of mine.

Before I do anything and before I go anywhere I make this little prayer. Please use it too. There is no copyright on it, it does wonderful things for me and I am sure that it will do wonderful things for you.

“Lord here I am, may whatever I say now won’t be my words but may they be your words. Lord here I am, may whatever I do now won’t be my actions but may they be your actions. Jesus you lead and teach me what to say and what to do”.

Yes at times in certain situations I still feel like a fish out of water and very uncomfortable. However I can honestly say that I have always left these situations knowing full well that I have sown hope, comfort and the presence of Jesus. All we need is to approach whatever we do knowing deep down in our hearts that we are not alone. Jesus is there. All we need to do is sow the seed. The growth and the harvest are his business. So let’s go.

God Bless

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