Come on in, the Water's Fine (homily)
August 29, 2010
Twenty Second in Ordinary Time
Sirach 3:17-29; Luke 14:1-14
You know how the lanes are set up for lap swim at the Aquatic Center? There’s a sign that says “Slow,” a sign that says “Medium,” and a sign that says, “Fast.”
I’ve been swimming laps again this summer for the first time in a long time and I’m really enjoying it. But I have to admit that every time I get into the “Slow” lane I feel self-conscious. Self-critical. Isn’t that ridiculous?
I mean, that’s the lane I have to go in. I swim like an anchor. Old ladies are always lapping me. Michael Phelps may think that there are “no limits”—he’s the swimmer who won the eight gold medals at the last Olympics, and that’s the title of his book: No Limits. But he’s wrong. He’s six foot eight and has hands like flippers. I’m five foot eight and sink like a stone.
But what’s the big deal? “Into things beyond your strength search not,” Sirach says.
The water’s just as cool and sweet for me as for anybody else. The endorphins buzz for me—in fact, I get more exercise than most people. I’m trying not to drown.
To worry about how I look in the water or what other swimmers think of me is crazy. It’s the American sin. It’s the masculine sin. It’s original sin.
It’s exactly counter to what Jesus is always preaching.
Tap into any passage in the Gospels or any part of scripture, anywhere. They’re never saying: be number one. They’re never saying: you have to be the best. They’re always saying the opposite, exactly the opposite. Conduct yourself with humility. Do not recline yourself at places of honor.
This is the pattern of the Christian life. The calculus of the Christian life. The logic of it. It’s the pattern of the life of the Lord, our brother Jesus, the one we love more than anyone else and want to be like in all things.
We buy big houses and cars and lots of things we don’t need until we get into debt and have to work two jobs and all we’re doing is killing ourselves with work.
With our inner life, too. We’re wasting our spirit. We’re worrying about things that only exhaust us interiorly, instead of simply being where we’re at, enjoying who we are, living in the given moment.
Who cares where we’re sitting at the table? The food is just as rich and savory. The banquet is still laid out before us. In fact, I have trouble talking and eating at the same time, don’t you? It’s so much better to let other people do all the talking and the impressing. That way you can relax. Enjoy the dishes. Just be.
“An attentive ear is the joy of the wise,” Sirach says.
Think of all the tables you sit around during a week. The literal tables.
There’s a lovely scene in The Passion of the Christ where Jesus and his mother are joking about a table some rich people have asked him to make. It’s a table with chairs, Jesus says. You don’t recline, Jesus says. You have to sit up high, like this—and as he gestures with his hand he and his mother are laughing together, this is such an odd thing.
It’s always good to remember that the people who wrote the Bible aren’t from around here, that we can’t assume that we know what even the simplest words mean.
But the table is an image, too, it’s a symbol, and it’s calling us to think about our own lives here and now.
Think of all the tables you’ve sat around this summer, the dining room tables in the houses of friends, the tables at wedding receptions, the tables in restaurants, the picnic tables and the card tables, the table in your own kitchen. Conference tables at work. The table your computer sits on. Be aware of all the tables in your life this upcoming week and what happens around them and what you do around them. Are you trying to impress? Are you trying to dominate? Are you swimming in the wrong lane? And how is that working for you? How does that make you feel? What are you missing?
When you sit at the table where your computer is, what do you do? What are you trying to accomplish when you send out an email or get on a website?
And who’s sitting around those tables besides you? Because that’s the other part of the Gospel today. Jesus flips things around. He says, not only should you be humble when you’re invited, you should invite the humble when you’re the doing the inviting.
Who do you invite when you have the chance and why? Only the rich, the powerful, the popular?
What do you invite into your mind when you sit at that computer? What do you read? What do you look at on the screen, and why?
It’s the issue of hospitality, in a profound and challenging and finally really liberating sense. I’m a teacher, for example, and maybe what Jesus is saying to me is that I have to welcome and feed the students who struggle in my class, who don’t already know what it is I’m trying to teach them—not complain about them to my colleagues—not just focus on the good students. That I change the atmosphere that way, my own assumptions.
How would that work for you as an engineer, or a business person, or a doctor, or a clerk, or a plumber? A mother? A father? How would you treat people?
Do we do what we do because we want to be rewarded, paid attention to, celebrated, paid back?
Jesus says no: Blessed are you when you do something for someone who can’t repay you, who may not even thank you at all.
What would that be like, to live our lives not for gain, not based on what we think others think, not based on what the culture wants and pounds into us every second?
It would be blessed. Blessed are you, Jesus says. Because then you are free. Then you can just be. You can just be in the water, in the sweet and lovely water. The waters of life, the waters of baptism. You can just sit around the table, you can just eat and be filled, and everyone is gathered around with you—around this table, the table of the Eucharist, the table of life.
To humble ourselves isn’t to make ourselves miserable. It isn’t to walk away from the party. It’s to really come to it. It’s to really be at it.
We’re all invited.
And we’re all laughing and talking. We’re all listening. We’re all just there.
It’s like the pool. It’s like the Aquatic Center on a sunny day. Overflowing with people, all kinds of people, the rich and the poor, the old and the young, the fit and the lame. And we’re all laughing and shouting. We’re all diving in. Floating. And it’s wonderful. It’s really wonderful. The water’s fine. It’s really fine.