On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:1, 7-14)
Jesus’ strategy is a strategy of poverty and solidarity with the poor. It’s a strategy of downward mobility. Not that everybody has to live in misery, by any means, but we are called to live lives of simplicity, humility, humble service and solidarity with the poor.
Jesus offends his host by criticizing his guest list, rejecting the reciprocal patronage system of the elite (which is simply, “You invite me, and I’ll invite you”), and calls instead for a focus upon “those who cannot repay.” Jesus is saying that we should consider “taking the lowest place.” I might ask myself:
- Do I have to seek recognition to have a sense of self-worth?
- Do I have to have the latest model car?
- Do I have to have a beach house?
- Do I have to keep up with my work colleagues?
- Do I have to have my own way?
- Do I have to have to strive for more material things than I really need?
- Do I have to have find my self-worth by being better than someone else?
- Could I simplify my life?
- Could I make real friends with the poor?
- Could I ask God for the grace that my basic orientation be towards God and neighbour rather than self?
Fr Michael Smith SJ