Rom 11:29-36; Ps 69:30-36; Lk 14:12-14
Saint Charles Borromeo was a blessed churchman; he was born and raised in a powerful and wealthy family, but he was upright and just in all his ways. During the plague and famine of 1576, he tried to feed 60,000 to 70,000 people daily. In order to do this he had to borrow large sums of money that took him years to repay. The civil authorities fled Milan at the height of the plague, however Saint Charles stayed in the city. This Archbishop ministered to the sick and the dying, helping those in need. The only thing that Saint Charles owed was to love his neighbor, even in their complete desperation. Not only did Bishop Saint Charles wear his pectoral cross, he carried the cross of suffering all through his life. He so exhausted himself for the ministry that he died as a young bishop; Saint Charles went to meet all those he had served in the Kingdom of God at the ripe old age of 46.
Who is not afflicted or in pain? Who does not need help and protection? Certainly those who are economically impoverished need desperately to be heard and responded to, but these are not the only poor. To some degree or another every human being is poor. We cannot save ourselves. We all need some kind of help and protection. The LORD himself hears and responds to the cries of the poor. We are in solidarity with every human being, especially those who have nothing in this world. The psalm has the only good news we need to hear, “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! For the LORD hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.” With our ancestors who were exiled to Babylon, we hope that God will save Zion and rebuild Judah. We hope that the descendants of his servants will inherit it just as his original servants received it from his gracious hand. Saint Paul continues to reflect upon the resistance of Israel to the message of the Lord Jesus and again he asserts that the gifts and call of God are irrevocable. Again the Lord Jesus uses his table fellowship with those who reject him as an opportunity to nourish them with some wisdom. We need the blessed bread of wisdom-life to see beyond our own agenda and catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
Mercy, abounding and unexpected, is revealed in the midst of the faithfulness and the unfaithfulness. The Gentile world was caught up in original sin and disobeyed God. The mercy of God, which is far greater than the disobedience of his children, has come to us through the coming of the Obedient One. The Jewish people also betrayed its original innocence; they, too shared in the guilt of our first parents. Indeed, “God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all.” Indeed, the entire human race, all the children of Adam and Eve have need of this mercy. No one can save himself. Everyone needs the abounding and unexpected mercy of the New Adam and the beauty and example of the New Eve. At this point in his writing Saint Paul breaks out into ecstatic prayer. Indeed, it is the wisdom and knowledge of God that recognizes our tendency to pride and self-sufficiency. Without equality in our poverty, we would take refuge in our arrogance and never be open to redemption. The endless cycles of blame and guilt would damn us even to the end of time, and far beyond. It is the inscrutable judgments and unsearchable ways of the LORD that demand our praise, honor and glory forever. Amen.
No leading Pharisee would invite the poor, crippled, lame or blind to his table on a Sabbath evening. It would not make his other guests too uncomfortable to have to share food, share anything, with those who have nothing—nothing except suffering and enormous inconvenience. Such a social gathering would only take this Pharisee off the list of homes to visit. Such a distain for those who have nothing in this world has not been eliminated from our world. Still, after 2000 years of gospel preaching the rich manage to isolate the poor. In one city certain “two martini lunch” patrons were most annoyed because they had to pass by a “stinky soup kitchen” on the way to their favorite restaurants. These solid citizens tried to have the homeless diner closed down for violating health codes. All it violated was certain olfactory sensitivities. We still have a long way to go. The gospel is still painfully challenging, “…when you hold a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”