There are no 'losers' dining at God's table

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  • August 18, 2010
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Aug. 29 (Sirach 3:17-20, 28-29; Psalm 68; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:7-14)

The virtue of humility has suffered much from human misuse. Often it is understood as passivity in the face of injustice or allowing oneself to be used as a doormat. Sometimes it is used as a tool to dominate and control others.


But true humility is far removed from all of that. It is an astonishing statement: “The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself…” and it is repeated in the Gospel statements that anyone who wants to be great must humble themselves. But it contains the key to humility: only those who are comfortable with themselves will be able to be humble. Self-appreciation (not self-exaltation) and realistic self-knowledge will set one on the correct path. When this is joined with a sense of gratitude for the gift of life and the blessings one has received from God the road will be even easier. Humility means freedom from compulsion to protect and stroke a tender and needy ego. As far as the Lord teaching His secrets to the humble — it is not a matter of favouritism. Simply put, only the humble person is open and able to be taught — we must be empty in order to be filled. It is difficult to teach anything to one who already knows it all. A renewed and modernized appreciation of humility would be very helpful in a culture in which competition and one-upmanship have been elevated to an art form.

The thought of an encounter with God or the spiritual world often generates a degree of fear in people. As much as we say we want to see God there is a part of ourselves that shrinks from the experience. This is often fed by books and movies as well as certain passages in Scripture that suggest that even getting close to what is holy can be hazardous to one’s health. But Hebrews paints a different picture: the celestial realms are a place of beauty and peace. Absent are the fireworks and special effects and in their place we find community and celebration.

Pharisees are not the only ones who jockey for position and honour. It is a common human failing and is the result of a fear-filled and inadequate sense of self. Pushing ahead and claiming a place of honour to which one is not entitled is a recipe for a humiliating and deflating fall. The banquet in this story is symbolic of all human activities. Jesus gave some good advice. Feel sure of yourself and happily take a lower place. If that is where you belong, you will be content and will avoid humiliation. If you are meant for something higher you will be called. There is no reason for frantic self-promotion. One’s social interaction cannot be dominated by calculation and advancement.

But Jesus went a step further with His banquet parable. Don’t invite people to share your table who have the means to repay you. Don’t invite those who possess status and honour — whose very presence at your table would be beneficial to you. Invite the poor, the marginalized and those whom society labels as “losers.” But in God’s Kingdom there are no losers and it is no accident that the table was chosen in the New Testament as a symbol of the new world that God is trying to create. The table in a Christian sense is not a place of exclusion or inequality but a sanctuary of equality, acceptance and sharing. It finds its fullest expression in the Eucharist despite the fact that Christians have often distorted its true meaning. Paul excoriated the Corinthian community in 1 Corinthians 11 precisely for that reason: they had made it a place of competition, social class, exclusion and inequality. Jesus preached a God-centred way of life devoid of the usual human types of honour and shame. If only we could give at least as much weight to these teachings as we do things about which He said little or nothing.

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