Year C: Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.
Luke 14: 1, 7-14
On a Sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.
He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then he said to the host who invited him, “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. 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. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
- In what areas are of your life are you “relationally” in community with the poor? Have you ever shared a meal with the poor or homeless?
- Why do you think concern about your honor and prestige is a detriment to one’s spiritual growth?
- Why do you think Christians are called to be reconciling people? Where could you grow in this capacity?
- Do you think there is a difference between what is spiritually wise and practically wise? Explain
Entering into Communion
Luke 14: 1, 7-14
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ
Today we return to the party table with Jesus. As Luke begins this story, we get the strong impression that the folks at the gathering have an agenda that goes beyond a simple get-together with one another. First, Luke says that people were observing Jesus carefully. That’s thinly disguised code for the idea that they were scrutinizing his every move, and presumably not so that they could learn and follow his example.
In what our liturgical selection skips over, among the guests there was a man with dropsy, an unspecified sort of distension that must have been obvious if not downright repulsive to look at. Upon encountering him, Jesus turned directly to the surveillance team and asked whether one should help or ignore someone in need on the Sabbath. While they maintained wary silence, he expressed his unequivocal and powerful opinion by healing the man. All of that, we might say, happened at the entrance, before the party — and today’s reading — actually began.
When we get inside, Luke tells us that Jesus was carefully observing the same people who had been watching him and saw them performing a sort of rooster rumble as they vied for the best positions. Sounding a bit like Sirach, Jesus offered them some free advice about how to save face. He warned them that their smug selfconcepts might not match the host’s ranking of the guest list. Rather than suffer the mortification of being exiled to a lower realm, they should put themselves in a position to be invited up higher. He ended his editorial with one of his oft-repeated aphorisms about the least and the greatest, in this case using it to point out that nobody enjoys being around self-important show-offs: If your table conversation is all about your greatness, you’ll enjoy the rapt admiration only of the person sitting in your own seat.
Once he had helped the guests to their proper places, Jesus offered his host advice that might have actually sounded strangely attractive at that particular moment. Luke invites us to imagine Jesus, the entertaining sage who surely didn’t show up in formal clothing, as he took in the social drama happening around him. Because his previous remarks were prompted by his observations of the guests’ behavior, we can imagine that he had also seen the host dealing with the delicate double task of trying to diplomatically adjust both seating arrangements and egos. It’s possible that there was a conspiratorial glint in Jesus’ eye when he suggested that the next time the invitees should come from the poor. The marginal classes neither knew nor cared about seating etiquette and could never pay back either honor or insult.
In order to understand the scene, we need to remember that Jesus never sat at a meal that did not become a call to communion — communion among the guests and with the Creator God in whose name they blessed their table. Thus, when he looked at the people jockeying for position, he realized that they were blinded by mirror vision: No matter what was before them, they saw only themselves and how circumstances reflected on them. His advice to look around, to find an unostentatious place, implied the invitation to see the others who were there. Seeing only themselves would have made for a boring banquet for them and for the others.
Jesus’ suggestions for his host’s next guest list have multiple layers of value. While there’s no doubt that the crippled, blind and lame would make for a less contentious dinner crowd, other reasons outrank that one. The most obvious is that according to Jesus, those are the people about whom God is most concerned. Thus, caring for them is sharing God’s load.
What is intriguing here is that Jesus suggests that the host invite the poor to his table. That’s a far different thing from telling the servants to send them the leftovers or setting up a soup-kitchen for them. Either of those would have given food to the hungry, but Jesus was after more than that.
In Jesus’ day, sharing a meal was a profound act of solidarity. To sit at table with someone implied that you would pray together, and that implied that you shared your relationship with God with one another. While not everyone probably thought it through in those terms, that was precisely why Jews could not eat with gentiles: They could not pray in communion, and they could not eat without praying. Therefore you could eat only with “your own.” Entering into communion with God’s poor would not put a host on the social register, but according to Jesus God would be in their debt. Their repayment would give them a place in the resurrection of the righteous.
Come Up Higher
It should not be hard for us to understand the quid pro quo and social climbing practices of Jesus’ time, since things have not changed much since then. Think of the meals you have shared over the past year apart from family affairs. Aren’t our social and professional lives just as much about mutual benefit and obligation as they were in first-century Palestine?
Jesus lived in a culture grounded in tribal, family and social honor. To be excluded from any important circle was to lose not just respect but your very identity. If you did not keep up with social networking, you ceased to exist or lost all chance of advancement to higher levels of influence and patronage.
What Jesus proposed to the guests at a dinner (at which he was no doubt the “guest of honor”) began as clever advice about how to use humility to get recognition and a place at the head table. But it quickly became utter foolishness when Jesus pressed on and told his audience to skip the quid pro quo and invite social outcasts to eat with them. The poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind could not reciprocate, and, even worse, associating with them would hurt your own social standing.
How true it is that the people we eat with regularly define who we are. The friends we relax with over lunch, the people we invite to our homes for dinner, the colleagues we choose at work to join us for a bite, the group we sat with in the high school or college cafeteria, these are the ones who define us. An inventory of who actually shared a meal at your family table this past year will reveal your values. We say we are for diversity, yet how seldom we eat with anyone not of our ethnic, racial, political, religious or ethical persuasion.
We look around us in church, and if all we see are people like ourselves — our zip code, economic and educational status, ethnicity — have we really heard the challenge Jesus proposes in today’s Gospel? One of the scandals of the Christian church is that Sunday morning is still the most segregated time in America. A powerful sermon on today’s Gospel about finding our place at the banquet of life will have little impact if the good people listening are unlikely to ever see or know any poor, blind, crippled or outcast persons anywhere near their personal enclaves and social comfort zones.
Back in the 1970s, heady times for many progressives and social activists, a prominent African American figure was addressing a political convention that had just approved a party platform calling for social change. He asked the delegates to reflect on who had made their beds and cleaned their bathrooms in the hotels they were staying in. He asked them to consider the low-wage workers who were providing basic custodial services in the convention hall. His invitation to the delegates to connect their ideals to the poor and vulnerable people most affected by the system they hoped to lead made a far greater impression than any speech.
In Matthew 25, Jesus makes it clear that he is in the world hidden among the poor, the hungry and thirsty, the ill-clothed, sick and imprisoned, the immigrant and the refugee. Finding Jesus and loving him is not just a rhetorical question; it is his invitation to us to find life, both here and for eternity. It is not too late to volunteer, to tithe, to stretch our lives to the margins, where the Beloved Community waits to welcome us and invite us to go up higher.