22nd. Sunday, Year C
(Sirach 3:17-20, 28-29; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14)
Our reading from the book of Sirach was only short but replete with human awareness and divine wisdom, and the opening lines struck me immediately:
My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
I find those words to be both beautiful and humbling, but they are words to be ‘tasted’ and delighted in when alone and at peace.
Now, it could well have been the case that not a few of the guests at the table of our Gospel’s leading Pharisee knew those words, in the sense that they were aware of them and had read them in their private reading or Scriptural studies, for these guests seem to have been invited for one main purpose, that they – regional/local fellow-Pharisees of the host -- might have an opportunity to meet the increasingly well-known ‘rabbi’, Jesus of Nazareth. That is why, I believe, we are told:
On a sabbath, Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing Him carefully.
The point is, however, that they are not words that will often be remembered and acted upon in lives engaged in the daily hurly-burly for prestige and position, and that is why Jesus, in His chosen parable, did not use any such words of human wisdom but developed words of divine wisdom wrapped in the aphorism immediately following:
Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favour with God.
Although St. Luke only tells us that ‘the people’ were observing Jesus closely, there can be no doubt that the ‘leading Pharisee’ himself was also carefully watching Jesus not only to see whether his dinner was proving a success but most especially to see how his guests were ‘finding’ Jesus, relating with or reacting to Him.
Above all, Jesus Himself was also carefully observing His fellow guests for the Gospel says:
Noticing how they were choosing the places of honour at the table, Jesus told a parable for those who had been invited.
The situation is reminiscent of Jesus’ meeting with the synagogue worshippers in His home town of Nazareth. All are watching and waiting for Him to say something, and Jesus Himself knows just why He has been invited; and having accepted the invitation He intends to go along with His hosts’ hopes and expectations for the outcome of the dinner.
What a drama, where divine wisdom is to be packaged in words of human cunning and self-promotion!
When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honour. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man.’
Jesus pictures a wedding banquet, a most important occasion in Jewish society where marriage was considered both as personal fulfilment and ‘national service’, a time for dresses and dignitaries, for boasting and gifts. On such occasions the still small voice of humility and modesty would be quite inaudible even for Jews better educated in such matters than any pagans around: the ever popular wisdom of self-seekers, ‘if one does not take the best place available for oneself, someone else will certainly come along and seize it to promote their own prospects; an immediate decision is needed otherwise the moment will be lost!’ Such an urgent and imperious consideration would rarely fail to convince even those allowing themselves an instant to consider the situation.
This picturing of a wedding banquet would have lulled any suspicions of Jesus’ table companions that they themselves were being ‘got at’. They all knew the ‘goings-on’ at such banquets on such occasions: mother of the daughter and bride-to-be, and mother of the son and husband-to-be, facing up to each other in so many secret little ways, words, and mannerisms. Two fathers carefully and anxiously (?) considering the financial costs involved. And then the relatives and friends of both parties all waiting to seize their own choice patch to enjoy and observe the celebrations.
Now, all the guests with Jesus at this smaller and less colourful banquet would have understood the elbowing and whispering secretly going on among those specially invited to such a wedding and they could well have been rather amused at their own recollections of such occasions. But they would also have been able to share quite emotionally with the one being asked on the one hand, to ‘Give you place to another man’, or, on the other hand, with him who was asked to ‘move up to a higher position’, and so Jesus’ parable would, I think, have most certainly stirred their attention to the extent that they were prepared to realize with mind and heart what was to come.
And so, at the summit of that peaceful and absorbing general appreciation of human nature in its amusing, selfish and suffering aspects, Jesus added words that, for Jews with their background and training, suddenly become intensely personal and serious, indeed, having divine implications:
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.
Humbled that is, by God , as no Pharisee or educated Jew would fail to understand.
Now indeed the rabbi from Nazareth was showing Himself to be such as they had heard Him spoken of:
Teacher, we know that what you say and teach is correct, and you show no partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth! (Luke 20:21)Notice Jesus’ method, dear People of God. He shows His listeners first of all, both calmly and without blame, that He knows them and theirs: the wedding banquet served to amusingly highlight conduct they could recognize so easily in others but which seemed so far away from their own serious gathering here and now at the home of one of their leading associates. Jesus Personally observes, the Word of God condemns; Jesus does not in any way approve but Personally He refrains from condemnation and gives what those around had secretly come to hear (with fearful expectation?) from Him, that is, the Word of God:
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled! But the one who humbles himself will be exalted.The Word of God indeed, presented by the Lord Himself, without any apology for considering it appropriate for those presently gathered with Him as guests at their host’s table: the warning is necessarily first, the promise is second now, but ever possible.
Jesus next turned His attention to His host whom He had also been carefully observing.
When you hold a lunch or a dinner do not invite your friends or brothers, or your relatives or wealthy neighbours, in case they invite you back; rather invite the poor, the crippled, 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.Jesus, I suggest, appreciated His host, and He was aware that the present banquet he had convened had been incumbent on him because of his prominence as a leading Pharisee and because (?) he was known to have some appreciation of the ‘untaught’ rabbi’s familiarity with and understanding of the Scriptures. There was no warning given to him by Jesus, rather, Jesus bestowed on him sure teaching about the resurrection of the righteous that was Personal, over and above, the Scriptures known by the Pharisee, for as yet the Jews had not come to any consensus, let alone unanimity, about the right understanding of possible ‘resurrection’ passages of Scripture. This statement of Jesus’ Personal divine wisdom was a bounteous reward for His host’s present understanding and spur for his future aspirations:
(Do this and) You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Dear People of God, we hear too often today those words, ‘Who am I to judge?’ Too often today the Word of God is held and hidden out of personal fear and embarrassment and false respect for other peoples’ feelings. Notice again Jesus’ own behaviour and remember that we are all members of a priestly people where some of us are also priests of Mother Church; all of us, however, have varying obligations and callings to proclaim the Word of God to the world in the name of Jesus. Jesus, as you have seen, Personally observed the situation in which He found Himself as Son sent by His Father, and He dutifully proclaimed the appropriate Word of God for that situation without fear. The Word of God condemned, judged, those who recognized themselves as targeted by those words.
Priests in the Church and in the name of the Church, the priestly, catholic, People of God, by the authority and obligation incumbent on them in their homes, workplaces, friendships and leisure times, are called to proclaim without fear the appropriate and necessary Word of God, in the power and virtue of the Holy Spirit. It is God Himself -- of His infinite wisdom, goodness and mercy -- Who condemns by the Word of His mouth those who choose to ignore His Wisdom and defy His Goodness.