Greetings, SBT Readers!
This week's photograph is of a clay figurine in a neighbor's yard. Walking through a narrow gangway last Fall, I happened to notice this figure which also had a female counterpart. Both statues evoked a sense of suffering humanity -- of those so bent by life's burdens, so deprived of basic necessities that leading a full and happy life is a dream beyond reach. Millions of the world's citizens barely subsist and yet those of us who are more fortunate often take our resources and privileges for granted, seldom thinking about the rest of humanity. Right now, for example, Pakistan is reeling under the worst floods in its recorded history; 33 million people have been affected, with tens of thousands homeless, and at least 1,000 deaths as of today. This catastrophe has barely touched U.S. news channels and therefore it is easy to be oblivious as to the magnitude of the tragedy. Instead, we continue to enjoy the good things of life, distracted by our wants and desires, and not really wishing to SEE the squalor that so many others experience as their reality. When we do SEE, we catch a glimpse and then move on, rather like speeding through a dark underpass at night, doors locked, windows rolled up, aware of the rows upon rows of tattered tents that line the street...
To be humble is to know that we are made of the same earth as our brothers and sisters, both across the globe and closer to home. It is to recognize that the blessings of life are for all of us to share; moreover, if we experience life as a feast, then we have the obligation to invite those who hunger to the banquet. In this way, gratitude moves beyond being a mere feeling to becoming a life-saving action.
Link to the Sunday Readings
He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing places of honor at the table.
"When you are invited to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
'Give your place to this guest,'
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 the host may say,
'My friend, move up to a higher position.'
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For those who exalt themselves will be humbled,
but those who humble themselves will be exalted.'
Lk 14:1, 7-14
In today's Gospel, Jesus is both the observed and the observer. Without letting us know whether Jesus is an invited guest or whether he has invited himself to the home of a leading Pharisee, Luke informs us that those gathered around the sabbath table are "observing him carefully." We don't know whether he occupies a seat of honor or a lowlier position, but all eyes are upon him -- and he is aware of this. Perhaps the other guests are simply curious as to who this itinerant preacher is and whether he is a man of God or in league with Beelzebub. Perhaps they are hoping to catch him in some theological errancy or else in some violation of the Law. Either way, it seems as though he is in enemy territory and, as we might expect, he takes the opportunity to rattle his opponents.
As it turns out, the lectionary omits an important part of the narrative-- The Healing of the Man with Dropsy on the Sabbath ( Lk 14:2-6). In the gathering, there happens to be a man afflicted with dropsy. It is almost as though his presence is a set-up. The unspoken question is will Jesus heal him, thereby violating a literal understanding of the sabbath? No one says a word, but Jesus, reading their minds, asks the scholars of the Law, "Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?" In response to their silence, he proceeds to heal the man and then justifies his action by asking yet another question: "Who among you if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?" What he is doing, in effect, is pointing to the heart of Jewish tradition, reminding everyone that compassion takes precedence over legalism.
It is at this point that Jesus uses the analogy of a wedding feast. Again, Jesus has observed the behaviors of those gathered around the table, noting how each person is choosing a place of honor. Having just humiliated his fellow guests, he now punctures their egos yet again, drawing attention to their arrogance. Then he takes his critique one step further: Hosting banquets for the wealthy and socially connected will bring neither blessing nor God's favor; it is in welcoming the "riffraff" of society that one will earn merit.
Three zingers in a row! How the guests must squirm! But we, too, are in the hot seat. In fact, if we still feel cool and comfortable after listening to this Gospel, then we have missed the point. Just as Jesus silences those present with his questions and storytelling, so he challenges us to examine our own attitudes, assumptions, judgementalism, egotism and elitism. Do we extend welcome to outcasts like the man with dropsy? Do we place ourselves where we can be noticed so as to impress others? Do we limit our guest lists to those who belong to our own circles of acceptability?
How do we observe ourselves as we reflect on these questions? More importantly, what does Jesus observe as he looks upon