A Seat at the Table
by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
On a Sabbath, Jesus 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."
Our Gospel reading this Sunday (Lk 14:1, 7-14) offers us dinner and a show with a large helping of humility as the main course. We tune into one of the most awkward dinner parties in biblical history, where one of the leading Pharisees has once again invited Jesus over to dine. That said, the text tells us, "The people there were observing him carefully." The original Greek in this passage is revelatory: the world "observe" is actually more like "spy on," in other words, they've come to the dinner and it's clear to all present that Jesus was invited to be the show. "Let's see what this savage man and so-called prophet from the backwoods of Galilee will do among the more civilized folk of Jerusalem . . ." The hosts and guests invited Jesus fully expecting him to give them all something to talk about, and he delivers. Yet, what he delivers is a table-turning fireworks show of self-examination guaranteed to discomfort and challenge every snob in the room. All Jesus does is raise a question: What was the rationale behind the seating plan that evening? How were the other invited guests chosen?
Consider the interior effect of what Jesus says: Suddenly all the vultures at the party aren't so comfortable. They start looking around at each other. Measuring each other up instead of Jesus.
"Which seat did they take? Why was I not moved higher? What does the host really think of me? Perhaps they're laughing at me, too." Jesus turns the tables. He exposes their pride and calls them to conversion through a series of parables about humility. Jesus provides an evening to remember, but one that's likely to jar each and every person there out of their self-satisfaction and push them onto a path of salvation through humility.
Humility, of course, is not about feeling nervous at parties or inferior to others, about beating ourselves down into the mud or exalting ourselves, either. Rather, humility is seeing ourselves as we are before God and others, recognizing our need for grace and redemption, and celebrating our gifts, but all the while remembering they are just that: gifts we've been given. We're meant to make a gift of ourselves to others in turn.
That's why Jesus reminds us to invite in the poor and the abandoned. We're really no better than they are. Anyone who's suffered a great loss or a sudden tragedy can tell you you can go from on top of the world to the bottom with lightning speed. There but for the grace of God we go. So, we care for those in need because they, just like us, are beloved by God.
Yet, we can also consider the Gospel today in a different light relating to humility. We can think of each of our lives as a dinner party of sorts. Then the question becomes: What seat do we give Jesus? Who are the other guests? Our job, our hobbies, vacation, our friends. What seats, what priorities do we give them at the table? Honestly, does Jesus sit close to us in our day-to-day schedule, or is he way down on our list of priorities? Where might the poor be seated? Humility means always putting God in the principal seat of honor and arranging all others afterward. Many people seem to have trouble finding God these days. Perhaps they can't hear him because he's all the way down at the end, shouting to be heard. Our Gospel today is not only an invitation to humble ourselves, but to invite Christ to a higher place at the table daily through prayer and works of mercy. After all, if we're generous with God and give him due honor, he is never outdone in generosity.