Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 1, 2019)
I would be embarrassed to tell you how many years I read this gospel about table seating and hosting - and just didn’t get it. Perhaps you have had trouble, too. We were not there. We did not hear Jesus’ inflection nor did we see the wry smile on Jesus’ face. I took as serious where Jesus was poking fun. Understanding that, the reading makes sense. His point speaks to the prideful Pharisee in many of us.
Jesus’ parable about how the guests might strategize to jockey them-selves into more prestigious seats is nothing short of comedy. Rather than speak directly about humility, Jesus creates a slightly outrageous story / parable to make his point.
Humility is having accurate knowledge of ourselves and accepting ourselves. In the parable, Jesus looks at motives. Humility is elusive; it is a slippery fish. In claiming that we have it, we lose it to pride. He challenges his host, the guests, and us to become humble.
Jesus’ words: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” cannot be ignored. We see some football players, after a great play, point skyward while others proudly thump their chests.
There are times when laughter is the best spiritual medicine. We need to be able to laugh at ourselves. I love another of those wonderful, Alcoholics Anonymous maxims of profound wisdom; “I may not be much, but I’m all I can think about.” The humor is so insightful. Humility is truth as Saint Therese, the little flower, says. It is the recognition that in god’s kingdom every individual is a beloved child of God. Stories such as today’s gospel make it clear that as an after-dinner speaker, Jesus probably caused heartburn for the Pharisee host.
In the second part of this episode, Jesus turns his attention away from being a good guest to being a good host. If we invite those who cannot reciprocate, we trade off dining with the somewhat rich and famous now for dining later at the banquet of the just in heaven. Throughout his ministry, Jesus judged the least, the lost and the forgotten as those most worthy of the kingdom of God.
I honestly do not know anyone or have even heard of anyone – including any religious family and my family of origin - who follows Jesus’ words literally as to who is to be invited to a gathering. Jesus is on a roll with his offbeat approach. This is hyperbole – deliberate exaggeration – about his preferred guest list. These words serve as a reminder to us of Jesus’ preferential option for the poor. Jesus wants inclusion, not exclusion.
What are we to do to steer between the twin rocks of a prideful attitude and self-rejection? We take the polarities of success and failure and learn the best from each. The unitive consciousness is balance, is reality.
The humble, gifted soprano does not deny the truth of her ability, nor does a good and humble athlete speak as if he is inept. We need simply to acknowledge our giftedness, but not get carried away with ourselves. We try to think no more highly nor lowly of ourselves than what is true. When complimented for an accomplishment, we simply say “thank you.” This acknowledges the truth-as-someone-sees-it, neither allowing our heads to swell, nor groveling that we are unworthy of the compliment.
We thereby allow our genuine, self-worth to grow, interiorly giving more of the credit to God. For, after all, “what do we have that we have not received?”
The humble have no problem recognizing their dependence on god and others. They acknowledge their own shortcomings and forgive the shortfall in others. Because they are not pretentious, the humble can rub elbows with the world’s “nobodies” and the really “somebodies” and be grateful for the good company of both.