15 PENTECOST, PROPER XVII - C- 16 LUKE 14. 1, 7-14
Of all the gospels, it is Luke who gives us more meal-time scenes. Jesus eats with his friends. Jesus eats with tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus eats with Pharisees and scribes.
In today’s gospel he has been invited to dinner at a leader of the Pharisees seemingly as the honored guest. It is the Sabbath. The motive, however, in inviting him was not to honor him but to try and trap him into saying or doing something the religious leaders could use against him at a later date. Thus Luke says, they watched him closely.
Our gospel reading begins with the first verse of the fourteenth chapter which sets the scene for us, then skips to the seventh verse where Jesus delivers two parables; one that deals with humility and the other charity. What is missing in between is the healing that Jesus performs on the Sabbath at the very beginning of the dinner party. It follows his question to the scribes and Pharisees who were present whether or not it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. However, they remained silent.
Following the healing, Jesus presents two teachings. The first is a lesson on humility. On the surface it would appear to be simply a lesson on social advice or practical wisdom. If you want to avoid embarrassment in front of your fellow guests, then, don’t automatically sit down in the place of honor. You just might be asked to move.
I almost had this happen to me once at a wedding reception. Over the years, I have been seated at the head table on more than one occasion in order to offer a prayer before the meal and a blessing afterwards. In this one case I automatically went to the head table and began looking for my seat. Name plates were in place. But I did not find mine.
Then, the mother of the bride came up to me and quietly informed me that my place was at a different table. Somewhat being embarrassed, I smiled and quickly retreated to my assigned seat. It happens. Needless to say I was humbled by it and afterwards never made the mistake of assuming where I was to be seated but instead would always ask the host first.
But Jesus did not come to offer good advice. His message was pointed towards those people in his day that were jockeying for position in the eyes of God, namely the scribes and Pharisees. They were eager to push themselves forward, to show how well they were keeping the law, to maintain their own purity.
The parable, then, is not so much about giving good advice for social occasions, but is found in the warning against pushing oneself forward in the sight of God. Not much has changed today. There are those who are eager to maintain their own place at the head table. They are so focused on that one thing they are incapable of grasping God’s great design of inviting all.
It has to do primarily with pride. Pride is the number one deadly sin because, among other things, like a dark cloud, it blots out God’s generosity. The enemy uses it to convince us that we deserve God’s grace, love and mercy, and that, at least in our eyes, there are others out there who do not deserve it. In the worst case scenario the enemy convinces us that we don’t need it at all.
Jesus, however, spent his entire earthly ministry trying to break through that cloud and bring God’s love to all. Christ’ parable dismisses the so-called honors and status of the world and calls everyone to the same meal, into the same place, into the presence of God, into the kingdom of God. In Christ the playing field is leveled. In the eyes of God each of us is of much worth.
Jesus concludes today’s reading with a second lesson; one of charity.
The object being “to give” and not “to get.” Sadly there is today not a little so-called charitable work the motive of which is at the very least mixed, and it get its reward, but not from God.
The charity Christ speaks of, is not meant to be rewarded in this life, but in the life to come. “To do good, and to distribute, forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Heb. Xiii.16)
In Christ, all Christians are called to depend on God’s love, and with the same generosity share it with those in need. We do so without regard to earthly rewards. God will see to all of that in His own time.
The motive again, is “to give,” and not “to get.” The lesson from Hebrews reminds us that the community of faith, the Church, is in the hospitality business. Charity is a virtue that reflects the Love of God. As God has invited us, so we are to invite others in His name.
In Christ we are all called to the same table, the altar of God. Here we kneel, rich and poor alike, young and old together, humbled by God’s presence. There are no distinctions. All share the same sacramental food, the Body of Christ. All drink from the same cup, the Blood of Christ. We kneel in all humility and stretch out our hands through the veil that separates heaven from earth, to receive the Bread of Life and to drink of the Cup of Salvation.
Because of Him who died and rose again we come to God’s altar in confidence to partake of the heavenly food. Our confidence in receiving these holy gifts is not our human pride in our own worthiness. It is, rather, the confident humility of the faithful. For we know that the Eucharist is but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet we hope, by God’s grace, to one day enjoy with all the saints in the fullness of God’s kingdom.
We are the Body of Christ here on earth, whose hands and hearts are strengthened through the grace of the sacrament to reach out in deeds of love and mercy. And our confident humility draws us into the promise that through Christ we will know God and His Love, and that through us, the world will know Him and the Love He has for all. Therefore let us keep the feast. AMEN+