September 1, 2019 onboard MS Zaandam
Sirach 3, 17-18, 20, 28-29 + Psalm 68 + Hebrews 12, 18, 19, 22-24 + Luke 14, 1, 7-14
Banquets, dinners, and parties are all frequent themes in Luke’s Gospel, and he uses these themes to give us a glimpse of what will be in the Kingdom of Heaven. In these verses today, we get a clear instruction about the heavenly banquet to which we hope to be invited. What we discover here is that hospitality and humility are essential virtues for those who expect to have a place at the banquet in heaven.
The reality of this vision of the banquet in God’s kingdom is that people are going to be there we might never think of inviting into our homes, because the Divine host is nothing like this guy who invites people from whom he expects to get something in return. There is a direct contradiction to the custom of social reciprocity that is to this day so endemic to our lives in this world. There is in the comments of Jesus a direct confrontation to a social system that always seems to reward the “haves” at the disadvantage of the “have-nots.” There is no virtue at all in any relationship based upon what you are going to get out of it. So, inviting those who have something to offer is self-serving and egotistical, and it uses the guests in a manipulative way that is shameful and ultimately contrary to the openness and graciousness of real hospitality that mirrors the hospitality of the Divine Host.
Knowing that, anyone who comes as a guest will simply be glad to be invited, and where you sit makes no difference because, you are just grateful to be there in the first place. Those guys Jesus observes elbowing their way around looking for the just right place and just the right people to sit with are foolish and silly looking. They are obviously without gratitude, and more interested in who they are with than in the party itself because, they have to “perform” and look good. The humble are always simply grateful.
It is the role of the Divine host to assign the places of honor, not the guests, and what we can learn from this parable is that we are not going to exalt ourselves. The reality is, we had better humble ourselves, or God will do it for us. The humility found in disciples of Jesus is the grace and wisdom to simply know our place. Saint Thomas teaches that “humility is truth”. Something in this world is always proposing to us that we should expect things or that something is owed to us. The humble are just grateful to be invited to the banquet. They have no expectations about seats of honor or privilege. At the end of the day, those who are worried about who they are going sit with never enjoy the dinner. They are just focused on themselves and the company they seek. In the end, it’s not the place that honors the guest. It’s the guest that honors the place. We don’t know in what place Jesus sat in the home of that Pharisee, but where ever it was, that was the place of honor.