Entitlement Is Dangerous, Susan Grant July 7, 2019.
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A few years ago I was visiting a friend in Texas for a few days, and he invited me to a concert his university choir was giving. I readily agreed, and we set off in his car. It apparently proved to be a very popular evening night out, as the parking lot was almost full. My host obediently followed the directions of the young parking lot attendants which was not the easiest thing to do as they were sometimes contradictory. It was very frustrating, but eventually we were parked and set off for the auditorium. My friend was dean of the university, and I congratulated him on not pulling a “Do you know who I am?” moment. In fact I was very relieved that he hadn’t. I suspect you may have been witness to one of those moments, and it is not pleasant. Look at the quotation from today’s gospel above. Do you detect a suggestion of entitlement there? I did a little research on the topic. The best non-entitlement story involved Queen Elizabeth; look at this clip, be patient and you will see what I mean. Then there is the opposite, here. Such arrogance can actually make one angry and tempted to become as bad as the perpetrator is, but we shouldn’t, of course.
Brooding on today’s gospel seems at first sight to be shocking. I got the impression that these good folk had done all the right things only to be shut out of heaven, and therefore agree with their frustration, anger, disappointment at the host’s response: “I do not know where you are from…” But if you think of their words, there is a clue there, with words such as “We” and “Us” and “Our” as if they had condescended to listen to him while he was in “their” town. Now that attitude can be taken in two ways. It may be completely innocent, or spoken with condescension, which smacks of sinful pride. It certainly makes sense of the narrow gate or door. Inflated self-pride will never get through it! The only person who can self-congratulate with abandon is the Lord. It was God who made us and considered that creation to be “very good” (Genesis 1:26-31), and gave us this beautiful world and awe-inspiring universe. That’s the spirit God speaks of in the first reading today, of a people “that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.” That is the simple truth, designed to teach us that we are God’s servants, and hence must act that way. It certainly was the way the Lord saw himself, so what greater example could we have? The second reading, also challenging, might well be taken as God’s attempts to remind us of that servant status we all have, and what will happen if we forget it. Remember Paul’s ineffable words from the beginning of his letter to the Philippians: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as one like us, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8). That is what God asks of us, to serve him, to do the right thing so that God might be honored, not us. Look at this from the gospel of Matthew: “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2). And, to make things completely clear and unambiguous, there is this, again from Matthew: “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16), and this from the first letter of St. Peter: “…if you are a speaker, speak in words which seem to come from God; if you are a helper, help as though every action was done at God’s orders; so that in everything God may receive the glory through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11). All this is so clear, strong and simple that any hint of entitlement is poison. All is for God, as Jesus’ whole life shows; we, like him, are all servants. If we claim anything more, puffed up pride will mean the narrow door will block our way.
Luke 13:29, till Christ is formed.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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