For Sept. 1, 2013: Proper 17, Year C

The Reading            Jeremiah 2:4-13

The prophet Jeremiah was active in the sixth century AD, in the decades before and during the occupation of Jerusalem. From him we get the English eponym “jeremiad”, referring to a scorchingly critical denunciation. Today’s reading is a classic example: Jeremiah relates the words of the Lord as prosecuting attorney, building a case point by point against the people of Israel for ingratitude, sin, and chasing after other gods.

The Response            Psalm 81:1, 10-16

“Oh, that my people would listen to me! that Israel would walk in my ways!”

The Epistle            Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

The letter to the Hebrews was written to guide people who sought to live as followers of Christ in a world that did not make that easy. Our series of readings from Hebrews concludes today with excerpts from the last chapter. The advice it gave in those days remains valid in ours.

The Gospel            Luke 14:1, 7-14

“‘When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed.’”

 

Further thoughts

The phrase “Know your place” has been brought into play throughout human history to remind the poor and dispossessed that it is their duty to bow to and support the rich and powerful; sometimes it is used to advise the all concerned that wealth and power and their absence correlate directly with God’s esteem. Today’s readings, however, take a much more radical perspective.

Through Jeremiah the prophet and through the psalmist, the God of Jacob excoriates Jacob’s powerful descendants, the priests and kings, for forgetting what their place had been: helpless slaves in Egypt that God nevertheless saw fit to redeem, and then leaders whose lives and actions and regard for strangers and orphans should set the best possible example for God’s people to follow. The rulers, priests, and prophets have abandoned their proper places: God will judge, and consequences will follow.

The reading from Hebrews reminds early followers of Christ of their place: in the world in love, tending the needs and wounds of strangers and those in trouble and doing their best with God’s help not to inflict wounds on those in their families. In a world in which strangers might be enemies and hierarchy extends to the family, this counsel seems to ignore both prudence and social norms—but it is the place of love.

In Jesus’ parable, the wedding guests seek the places they think they deserve at the banquet, and they risk getting it wrong. I think the parable and the following comment call us truly to see those around us, recalling that another’s worth in God’s eyes is not a reflection of net worth. We might also reflect that those who cannot repay us in the world’s terms nevertheless honor us by their presence and by the God-given grace to receive with thanks and without resentment or shame.

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