Sirach 3, 17-18, 20, 28-29 + Psalm 68 + Hebrews 12, 18-19, 22-24 + Luke 14, 1, 7-14
It would be very easy to sit back and think that this episode in Luke’s Gospel is all about pride and humility. There is plenty here to reflect upon in that regard, but there is a lot more about this story that addresses our lives and behavior these days than pride and humility. As I was sitting with this text and imagining the dinner, my mind wandered to the very popular British Series: “Downton Abbey” where many events of the day and much of the lives and values of the characters are revealed over grand sumptuous meals. Somehow those meals reveal a great deal about those times, the people, their values, and their sense of self.
Much the same thing is taking place in the home of this Pharisee. Jesus is there, and so are we. In the light of His presence we learn a lot about the guests and the host; and we if we want this Gospel to come to life, we might place ourselves in both roles. We are always guests at the divine table. We are also often the host who invites, nourishes, and provides for others. Read in this way, we can do some serious reflection on just what kind of guests we are, and how we behave as a host. Perhaps, and very likely, Luke is retelling this story for the sake of his community wanting them to think about their behavior at Eucharist. We can allow Luke to do the same for us and broaden the image even wider, because we not only feast at the Eucharistic Banquet, but also at the Banquet of Life on this earth.
The whole idea of places of honor is called into question by this Gospel. Jesus takes offense at the whole idea of privilege. Does someone have a “right” to be invited or included? If they find themselves invited, is there some “right” to sit in one place or another? This is serious business for those who find themselves at the table. It is no privilege, it is a gift. No “rights” are included, he seems to say to the guests. Then he speaks to the host about who is to be included, and the same principal applies. For us believers, any thinking about a “host” ought to remind us of the Divine Host who must be our model. Since God, the Divine Host does not seem interested in “privileges”, then how is it possible that those who are made and live in His image would do otherwise?
We know how this works and what it means. It happens all the time. “What am I going to get out of it?” is always the issue when it comes to choices: choices about who to invite, who to serve, who to welcome, or who even who to acknowledge. This question has no place in the lives of disciples of Jesus. There is no pay-back in this life other than the pay-back of knowing we have come closer to life in the Kingdom of God as Jesus models for us.
Perhaps to get to the heart of this Gospel, we simply need to go back to the table where we learned to pray; the table in our homes with brothers and sisters, Mom, Dad, and anyone else who pulled up a chair at that table. Sadly in these times, such tables are too few with fast-food meals eaten in the car on the way to or from some meeting or game. Too few are the meals where people sit together and talk without the TV or Phone texting, or Video games for children to keep them quiet.
While her sons were away during a war, my Grandmother always insisted that any soldier who was at the Fort alone on a Sunday or holidays be brought to the house. It made no difference where they were from or what color their skin. Around that table were people I never saw before and never saw again. The custom passed down to my own generation, and I grew up in a home were people joined us for dinner. There we learned to pass the bread so that everyone had a piece. When someone came unexpectedly, we knew to take a little less so that there would be enough to go around. It was never a matter of whether or not the guests deserved a share. The rule was simple, everyone who came got a portion of what was provided. I grew up with people who lived the same way, and many times I was invited at the last minute, and there always seemed to be enough with people who understood this Gospel story.
It’s not all about pride and humility. It’s about eating. It’s about being a guest, and how to be a host. It’s not about rights and privilege. It is about gratitude, and a right attitude about the abundance in which we find ourselves, how we share it, as well as how we feel about being at that abundant table. This is what Jesus revealed at that dinner in the house of a Pharisee; and it is what he reveals to us again today.