In the Gospel reading for the Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, from Luke 14:1, 7-14, Jesus speaks two parables. The first deals with honor, embarrassment, humility and exaltation. In the NRSV, the first parable is as follows: “when he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (7-11).
Is this parable simple? It seems so, as Jesus warns against an undue sense of superiority, mostly to avoid embarrassment. He calls for humility to avoid embarrassment or, in my word, dishonor. Jesus undercuts, it seems, the whole notion of honor. Or does he? He acknowledges “lower” and “higher” places and seems to suggest that some “someone more distinguished than you” could have been invited by your host. But this leads, finally, to another question: is there a time when you could be certain to be the “most” distinguished guest? When should climbing to the head table be presumed as your right? On what basis? Wealth? Education? Talent? Character? Position? Rank? Seniority? Wisdom? I know that Jesus’ parable is ultimately pointing us to the true exaltation and the true humbling, which are spiritual in nature, but as so often with Jesus’ parables how we behave with our material goods in this life has implications for the spiritual life and world to come. Disentangle and disattach yourself from worldly honor and exaltation, even when they are due you on some earthly level, and live with humility. Honor will come, but what matters is the honor of the world to come.
Healthy advice for the partygoer, but what about the host or hostess? Jesus “said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous’” (12-14). Do not invite those who have honor, or even connections to you, such as friends and relatives, but think of those who have nothing and who cannot repay you. Again, it is not a matter of the notion of repayment as such being rejected, but of repayment being deferred until the world to come. Reach out to those in need, who can neither pay you back nor lend you their honor.
That’s a lot of deferral for those of us who live in this world. It’s almost like that’s the point of these parables. Live humbly and reach out to those in need, expecting nothing in return. I still have trouble, though, with not inviting my friends and family to eat. I tend to be most humble with those who know how humble I need to be. Am I missing something here? And how does this apply to our life as the Church, the body of Christ, and not simply as individuals?
John W. Martens