One day a woman came in seeking a dozen cookies and when she did not get a "baker's dozen" of 13, she left the bakery angry and uttered some prophetic words.
In the story "The Baker's Dozen", set here in Albany no less, a theme unfolds. That theme is generosity. Our baker, Van Amsterdam, was so honest that no one was cheated. That said, no one got any extra either and that was something he was to pay a price for as we are to find out.
As the story continues, after this woman leaves his store, his business goes downhill fast. It was not until he had a dream in which he gave out extra that his success and his joy, returned to him. The essence of the tale is that there is always enough, but it is also clear that humility plays a role in generosity.
In our first reading from the book of Sirach, we hear:
My child, conduct your affairs with humility,
and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find favor with God.
Conduct your affairs with humility! Humble yourself the more! These are admonitions that are not exactly in sync with our culture and society. Fairness has an almost excessive value at times... and we see where that got our Albany baker, Van Amsterdam. How do we learn to live this way?
Luke's Gospel for today really cuts to the chase, when Jesus tells us:
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment."
That is an example of how fairness can become quid pro quo and anything but justice at that point.
If you listen to today's Gospel clearly, you might feel challenged. I know that I do! Once again, in statements that are completely antithetical to our contemporary culture and society, we are told to take the lowest place. In fact, we should naturally choose this... which is what we would do if we cooperated with God.
I guess the one name that comes to mind most quickly for me when I ponder this is St. Francis of Assisi. There are many others in the Great Cloud of Witnesses that is our communion and our hope, many of them unnamed. How do we make ourselves low without abandoning who we are?
Which brings me back to our baker friend, Van Amsterdam... He was not to simply lay prostrate before God and neighbor saying "I'm not worthy." No, he had to use his gifts as baker, given freely by God, in a most generous way. That is humility.
Sadly we tend to think of meekness or humility as some kind of false piety and selflessness. In fact, it is quite the opposite. We are called and loved to be fully who we are, expressing richly all the gifts which God had given to us with such generous love. And when we stand in the place of who we are loved into being, expressing those gifts, with generosity and freedom - then we know we are all actually God's gift to the world.
That is really the low seat, the last place and we can only progress in our spiritual journey from that very place. At least that is what I am told - this does not come easily to me.
In any event, this week, as you go forth and you think about justice and fairness in regard to who is in and who is out (orthodox versus progressives, liberals versus conseratives), who belongs and who doesn't (Undocumented workers, LGBT folks or Muslims, who deserves something (the poor, unemployed, uninsured) and who doesn't, maybe you, like I, will refer to these readings and prayers from this weekend. And when doing so, maybe we can all give out that extra cookie with joy and wild abandon and see what happens.
I think all sides might benefit from giving an extra something to the other, but that we must remember that God always uses the poor, infirm, the marginalized to show us the way. Remember that whole "fairness" thing?
It is the hardest work - to be who we are and to do it without getting in our own way, and without getting in God's way. It is then and only then that we are God's gift to the world... and to one another.