•Sirach 3:7-18, 20, 28-29 • Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a • Luke 14:1, 7-14•
Weekly Scripture Readings: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
In early summer I accidentally picked up and read “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.” The tale is set in England. Recently retired Harold Fry lives in a small village with his wife, Maureen. She seems irritated by everything he does. Their son has left home and their marriage is empty. They survive in silence until an unexpected letter arrives from Queenie, a women Harold has not heard from in twenty years. She is in hospice care writing to say goodbye. He writes a brief note to her and sets out to put it in the mailbox on the road. Inadvertently he finds himself engaged in a 500-mile walk from his home in Kingsbridge on the southernmost tip of England to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tyne on the northernmost tip of England. He sets out day after day convinced that as long as he walks, Queenie will live.
The tale is full of wisdom that guided me in listening to today’s gospel text. I am trying to use Harold’s pilgrimage to highlight the good news in Luke’s text.
When we probe the text from Luke’s gospel the context is clear. Jesus is among the guests in the home of one of the leading Pharisees. Among the guests are some of the religious and social elites of the area. They are there for the Sabbath meal. Trying to appear distinguished, they compete for prime placement at the table.
As Jesus took in the social drama happening around him, he spoke a parable about a wedding banquet. The parable illustrates a central dynamic in his teaching.
The parable about where to sit at the banquet table inverts the world of his host and fellow guests. It turns everything upside down. Jesus advises them, “don’t focus on your own needs or your own comfort. Focus on others and their needs. Let go of your egotistical self so you can be fully alive and fully human.”
Now back to story about Harold Fry and his wife Maureen. It was a perfect spring day, the second or third day of his unlikely pilgrimage. As he walked along he noticed “the sun poured like warm liquid on his head and hands. The air was sweet and gentle and the sky stretched high, an intense blue. He was certain the last time he peered through the drapes of his house the trees and hedges were dark bones and spindles against the skyline. Yet now that he was out, and on his feet, it was as if everywhere he looked, the fields, gardens, trees and hedgerows had exploded with growth. The abundance of new life was enough to make him giddy. He was in the world by himself and nothing could get in the way or ask him to mow the lawn.”
As his unlikely pilgrimage progresses, we learn that as their marriage collapsed, both Harold and his wife Maureen focused more and more on their own needs and comfort. Now as he walked across England, he felt life newly awakening in him. As his wife became more and more absorbed with anger and resentment, she felt the isolation and loneliness closing in on her. I found their tale enjoyable and stimulating spiritual reading. I don’t want to ruin it for you by saying too much. I will say the tale has a wonderful ending.
As Herold’s pilgrimage and inner dialogue unfold, I hear echoes of this banquet parable. For example: “don’t focus on your own needs or your own comfort. Focus on others and their needs. Let go of your egotistical self so you can be fully alive and fully human.”
Out of his lived experience Jesus knew that we are able to love without expecting anything in return. That is why he makes a final, bold promise before leaving his host’s table. He told the host and his guests that if you seek and work for a more human and fraternal world for others “you will find yourself blest in abundance.”
The good news is this. Cut down on your own interests. Look for the good in others and offer them opportunity to recognize their own goodness. Then, like Harold Fry, you will be free to be fully alive and fully human. That is good news and the core of the Christ Mystery!