Luke 14: 1a.7-14
14 1 And it happened that one day Jesus was going on Sabbath to a chief of the Pharisees for a meal.
7 Observing how the guests chose the places of honor at the table, he gave this advice of wisdom to them, 8 "If ever you are invited to a wedding, do not sit in the place of honor, in case where one would have invited someone more important than you, 9 and the one who invited you both to say to you, 'Give him the place', so that you will go pitifully to the last place. 10 On the contrary, when you are invited, go instead to the last place, so that the one who invited you to say to you on his arrival, 'My friend, go up higher'. Then you will be honored in front of all those who share the meal with you. 11 Anyone who magnifies himself will come out diminished, anyone who diminishes himself will come out magnified". 12 Jesus also said to him who had invited him, "When you organize a meal for lunch or a big feast, do not call your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, because they will start inviting you in turn to repay what they owe you. On the contrary, when you organize a reception, invite rather the poor, crippled, paralyzed and blind. 14 And it will be wonderful to you that they will not be able to invite you in their turn, because it will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
A desire to shine, to feel important and be desired, it's perfectly normal
Gospel commentary - Homily
In 2005 a scandal shakes the scientific community: a prominent South Korean scientist known for his work on cloning, embryos and stem cells admits to falsifying the data in his famous article in the American journal Science and breaking certain ethical rules. What can bring a man to do this? The desire to consolidate or accentuate its status of being unique in the world? At the time of writing, a crazy killer has shot down 32 people at Virginia Tech. A specialist in school killings says that these actions are basically the result of a desire to change the perception of losers that others have about them, to capture the attention and to get a few weeks of celebrity if only under the face of the anti-hero. The gestures of the scientist and the killer are obviously not of the same order, but would they not be the biased expression of a fundamental need in every human being, that of feeling important and desired?
Faced with these events of a rather large scale, today's gospel story may seem rather benign, even insignificant: avoid taking the first places at social invitations. Frankly, would Jesus be short of inspiration to waste his time teaching good manners, especially since the motivations given, those to avoid losing face and to be ashamed, are not very high? We are well aware that there is in this story a much deeper content than what appears at first glance. But what exactly?
The trap that lies before us, and which risks blocking an accurate understanding of the story, is to see here a little morality, for example by imagining that Jesus is preaching about humility: we should be humble, avoid honors and go unnoticed. In the same way, as the end of our story indicates, one should give without counting and refuse any return. Such a morality is stifling and above all does not reflect the depth of the issue.
The key to the narrative lies in the good understanding of the character of the host, the one who invites: it is about God himself. It is up to Him and to Him alone to determine my place and my true greatness. It is He who helps me when I have the temptation to take myself for someone else, or the opposite, to denigrate myself and consider myself a dummy. "Go sit in the last place" means: avoid being a slave to the eyes of others, take your distance from the various human hierarchies and your own categories, rely ultimately on the God's own judgment.
But, it will be said, how can one know this judgment, since no one has seen God or can communicate directly with Him unless if someone believes he is an enlightened person? All of Jesus' teaching and his action is a continuous testimony of what we are before God: loved in a infinite way, unique and so important that it is legitimate to help others at the cost of one's life. Even more deeply, we are a little bit of God. It is in this sense that we must read the end of our story: just as the creation of the universe, in the form of "Big Bang" or other, is the explosion of the goodness and generosity of God, thus our social actions, in the form of an invitation for diner or others, will also reflect the over-abundance of tenderness that inhabits us.
However, we need more than the testimony of Jesus to remind us of our true greatness, we need the words and tangible gestures of those around us. This is the mission we have for each other.
We need to feel unique. We need to feel important and desired. This need, which can sometimes lead to unfortunate decisions like those of the South Korean scientist or the mad killer, or petty gestures such as jostling others to obtain the first places, is the one that can ultimately guide us towards God: only He can fill totally our desire to be important and desired. When we are tempted to judge ourselves with the gaze of others or to buy their attention and affection, it is this faith in God that allows us to remain free and avoid these pitfalls. Also, it is this same faith that allows us to reveal to each other our true greatness, that infinite part that dwells in us. Is this our faith?
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, April 2007