Jean Vanier is the founder of the L’Arche communities where mentally handicapped and non-mentally handicapped people live together and he is a prolific writer and speaker. He has gained great insight and wisdom from his years of working with people who are often excluded in our society. In his book Becoming Human reflects on the truth that “being human” is not just a matter of being born but rather is a process of becoming that extends throughout our lives. Learning from those who are excluded is part of this process. Vanier writes, “…the excluded live certain values that we all need to discover and live ourselves before we can become truly human … It is not just a question of performing good deeds for those who are excluded but of being open and vulnerable to them in order to receive what they can offer; it is to become their friends.” If we do this, then “they will change things in us.”
In today’s gospel (Lk. 14:1,7-14) Jesus has been invited to a meal with some Pharisees. He had been invited in order that they might watch him (and judge him) but in fact it is he (the Son of God) who observes them and, through them, the human condition very carefully – and he makes a judgment. Jesus notices our tendency to want to place ourselves first and get the seat of honor. To correct this tendency our Lord offers a parable that emphasizes humility and generosity. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place… Rather, 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.
Being human is not just a matter of being born, it is a process of becoming and our Lord wants his disciples to be fully human as God intends and to move beyond those tendencies that separate and divide and not to exalt them. Life can be lived differently. Humility and generosity toward those who cannot repay are more than good table manners; they are a mode of living that opens a person up to others, especially those who are excluded. Jean Vanier knows this truth. When we are open in humility and generosity, we learn truths that cannot be found anywhere else. We become more fully human.
Despite all the superhero or hero movies that currently are filling our movie screens (which I admit, I do enjoy for the most part), our world does not need superheroes or heroes who achieve through violence just done in the name of the good. Our world needs people who are more human, not less and, I think, this is what God wants of us. Our Lord judged the actions of those he saw at the dinner he was invited to. It is safe to say that he was not impressed because in their rush for the seat of honor they were losing themselves, their humanity and denying the humanity of their neighbor.
Lord, help us learn the lessons of humility and generosity toward those who cannot repay. Lord, help us become more human.