"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

22nd Sunday -C- September 1, 2019

Sirach 3: 17-18, 20, 28-30 - Ps. 68 - Heb 12: 18-19, 22-24 - Luke 14: 1, 7-14

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Jesus seems out of character in the advice he gives today to his host, "one of the leading Pharisees." Is he assuming the role of a social consultant, advising ambitious people how to get ahead while avoiding public embarrassment? If you want a higher, or more prominent place, at an important function then choose the lower seat. Then your host will publically usher you to a higher place at the table. You’ll look great and everyone will note your moment of glory! Who wouldn’t want such an esteemed place and the admiring, envious glances of peers? So, is Jesus suggesting a pretense of humility to get the first place at important gatherings?

This doesn’t sound like the Jesus who had a bad reputation for eating with the disreputable. His table companions certainly wouldn’t have merited for Jesus a, "Here, come up higher," from a leading Pharisee. He is not suggesting a feint in the direction of humility to earn public esteem. He is doing what he has consistently done, teaching his disciples to be truly humble, putting aside ambition for worldly honors.

Jesus isn’t suggesting we slack off at school; work less diligently at our jobs; not accept compliments for the good things we do. He wants us to use our talents as best we can since they are gifts from God and will not only benefit us, but can be used for the well being of others. But Jesus is reminding us that, behind all our attempts to work hard and do good for others, we must reflect on our reasons for doing what we do. As Christians we try to share the gifts of life we have, not to stand out, but so that others can stand up with us, relish life and celebrate the God who has blessed us.

Even more than now, in the ancient Near East, meals were guided by strict rules: the guests were carefully chosen; the foods specially selected; the seating arrangements scrupulously determined. There may not have been place cards, but people had their assigned places nevertheless. Jesus may have been the one invited to dine by his host, but before the meal even started, Jesus became the host, as he suggested a change in the rigid seating arrangements and instructed people about the seats they had chosen.

Remember that this is a Sabbath meal. The very people Jesus says we should invite to a "banquet" are those who would have been excluded from the Sabbath meal at this distinguished Pharisee’s home, and possibly from the synagogue itself, because their social or physical condition would have labeled them as sinners. But the Sabbath meal was to be a place that celebrated God’s choice of an enslaved people and God’s gift of liberation for them. When God found them, the Israelites were slaves. God reversed their condition and invited them to the table. The Sabbath meal not only celebrated God’s gracious actions on their behalf, but it also reminded them that they were to do for others what had been done for them: free the enslaved; welcome the stranger; care for children and protect the widows.

I am sure Jesus doesn’t want us to stop having meals and sharing special occasions with those nearest and dearest to us. That’s not what he means when he turns to the Pharisee who is hosting him and tells him to invite those to lunch or dinner who can’t return the favor. If we make a point to invite the least, "the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind...," then while at table with them, we might enter into new relationships. Not only would the poor be fed, but we would discover the Christ who identifies most closely with them.

Those neglected by our society not only need our material gifts, they also need the dignity that comes with being acknowledged; they need the gift of our friendship – and we need theirs as well. Together with them, we will experience the God Jesus has revealed to us, who loves us, not because we are distinguished or esteemed in our world, but because God has chosen to love us, rich and poor, haves and have-nots. The reality is that we seldom, if ever, go outside our social and familial circles. Sitting at table with one another will remind us of what God has done for us and who we all are, children of a loving and caring God, who has gifted each of us, whether we are hosting the meal, or called in from the highways and byways of life to share in it.

No, Jesus hasn’t had a shift in character. He isn’t suggesting subtle ways to climb the social ladder so as to get places of esteem and influence. Rather, he wants those who have, to reach out to those who have not. And if we sit across the table from each other, who knows where our conversations will lead?

Imagine the dinner scene: food and drink being passed and people who previously didn’t know one another, involved in animated conversation. What might we hear at the table as we get to know the guests we have invited? We might hear and come to understand their need for: food and shelter; protection of their rights; good and safe schools for their children; a voice to speak out on their behalf in the community; health care and medicine for their families; help to process legal documents; employment, etc. We rarely get to know those whose lives are at the other end of the spectrum from us. But if we did, by having a dinner together, or initiating a conversation with them, we might come to recognize the others as unique persons and we might come to know their needs as well. Then, first hand, we will know what we must do to be Jesus’ faithful disciples.

Of course, it wouldn’t all be sad talk, would it? At table, we would share stories of our family origins, our children’s antics, recipes and traditions. At table we would discover how much we have in common as human beings; we would see less of what separates us and more of what unites us. Are we being too idealistic? Are we describing a purely imaginative scene that has no parallels in the "real world?" Maybe. But here at Eucharist we are gathered around a shared meal. The kind Jesus has described. He has invited us and we have accepted the invitation. Granted, our parish communities can be pretty homogenous, but if we look a little more closely, we will notice more than enough diversity, especially these days in our very mobile world and with the arrival of so many immigrants.

There are many differences that would keep us separate. Nevertheless, here we are, together at the same table. We will listen to our common family story. It goes all the way back to Abraham and Sarah and to such sages as Sirach, in our first reading. In our worship our story focuses on Jesus and his Spirit makes his words relevant to our day. We may be very different in the world, but here at Eucharist we are family. What have we learned about one another at this table? When we leave this worship space, what can we do for others, those whom Jesus would have us love the way he loves them?

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090119.cfm