22 Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s parable might make Jesus out to be a public relations guru, telling you how to get to the first place without anyone catching on. Frankly I do not think his advice would work today. It might have worked in the closely knit village in first century Palestine where everyone knew everyone else. Today they will not even notice you if you took the last place. We have to look deeper.
I think the real question for each one of us is – Who do you depend on to find your place in life? Do you depend on yourself? Or do you depend on God to give you your place?
We have been told watch out for yourself alone. We do not wait to find out what God wants. We do what we want and then ask God to bless what we want. For us happiness lies in being number one. Whether it be in terms of money, or power, or honor, or beauty or intellectual attainments – the bottom line is – be number one and you will be happy at last. There is a hole in our heart and somehow we have been told that if you fill this hole with money, possessions, information, you will be happy. But the hole never goes away. The very things we think will make us happy are the cause of our unhappiness. They enslave us. Aristotle is his Nicomachean Ethics says that the life of money making is a life under compulsion. Success might be just an appearance.
There is in psychology a phenomenon called the imposter syndrome. Very accomplished and gifted people who have a lot of be happy about, who are very successful are plagued with self-doubt and have a persistent fear of being exposed as frauds. To others they are idols, stars but left to themselves they are anxious, they feel like failures, they feel they have gatecrashed their way to success and that their luck will soon run out. And so you find the strange phenomenon of really smart people doing really dumb things to sabotage the success they are so afraid of. They are at the top of their game one day and the next day come crashing down to the bottom. Success did not fill the hole. It only made it more painful. The fact is created goods like money and power and honor cannot fulfill us. We are like people at the banquet in today’s gospel, we gatecrash our way to the front row. But this place secured by pride and pushing others out of the way cannot last. It leaves us feeling hollow.
I remember speaking with a devout Catholic mother of a large family. Something she said stuck with me and I remember it after so many years now not only because it was so different but because it was so true. She said ‘I tell my teenage children, first discern your vocation before you decide on your career. Find out if God is calling you to marriage, the priesthood, religious life or even the single life. Find out what God wants for your life before you decide what you want to do with your life” Let God give you the place He wants for you. Then you will be happy. We are afraid of this. We think – let’s say if God’s will for me is not to be number one. I will be forever unhappy. I will never have a chance to be happy again because to be number one is to be happy. But the fact is that our real happiness lies in making God our place. Nothing but God’s love can completely fill the hole in the heart. We chase after created goods to fill this hole and they promise much but they never fill it. Only the love of God can. Only in Him can we find our rest and our placeWe cannot gatecrash our way to it like the person at the banquet who takes the highest place. We have to wait humbly for God to take us there. We have to become like children, dependent on God alone.
As monks at key moments in our monastic life – entering as a novice, making simple vows and solemn vows – we say we seek the mercy of God and the Order. It takes a lifetime to know the meaning of this. We might enter thinking we are God’s greatest gift to monasticism. We might think we can charge to the top of the hill before the other mediocre slowpoke monks. But in time we learn the truth. By the grace of God we learn that we have gatecrashed our way into a party we never had any right to in the first place. We have no place here because we are so good or holy. We remain here only because the mercy of God prepared a place for us in this community and we continue here because the brothers have made a place in their hearts for us. We can only be unworthy servants who have received a great mercy. We can only humbly receive this mercy without owning it. And this is where true happiness lies. It is not in being ahead of the pack but in accepting in gratitude the place that God and the brothers have prepared for us here.