prepared by Fr. Abraham Mutholath
The key words in today’s gospel passage are humility and charity. Jesus preached what he practiced. While participating in a banquet offered by a leading Pharisee, Jesus taught how a disciple should be humble to inherit a better position at the eternal banquet in heaven.The advice of Jesus to the host was to invite the poor who cannot return any favor to him so that God would reward the host. God will reward our humble services for the less fortunate. Jesus humbled himself during his trial and death that led to his glorification by God the Father. Like the advice Jesus gave to the sons of Zebedee, let us focus on participating in the mission of Jesus. Then the recognition would follow in due time.
The Bible Text
Conduct of Invited Guests and Hosts.
(7) He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. (8) “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, (9) and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. (10) Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. (11) For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(12) Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. (13) Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; (14) blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
The setting of today’s gospel passage was a banquet that Jesus attended on a sabbath at the house of a leading Pharisee. The people in attendance were closely observing Jesus because of the clash between Jesus and his opponents on the observance of sabbath. During that banquet, Jesus healed a man with dropsy even though the Scribes and Pharisees did not answer to his question of whether it was lawful to cure on the sabbath. Jesus disagreed with their lack of charity as part of sabbath observance.Jesus made use of the dinner setting, to teach the guests and the host on the importance of being humble and charitable to become a true disciple of Jesus.
(7) He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
Just as the people were observing Jesus on his extraordinary behavior, Jesus was also watching the inappropriate behavior of the guests. They were competing for places of honor like his disciples who had been competing for position in the kingdom of God that Jesus was going to establish. Jesus was not against an eligible person taking his seat of honor. However, ineligible people were also trying to occupy higher seats and were getting humiliated by the host because he had to honor the distinguished guests. Jesus’ intention was not to teach them on how to behave in a banquet, but as a parable to teach a moral lesson on humility needed for a disciple. The behavior in a secular situation is also the reflection in the spiritual mentality of the person.
(8) “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
According to the Jewish wedding custom during the time of Jesus’ public ministry, people were reclining on cushions around a low-level table for banquets. The prominent persons were in the middle and others were on the two sides of a U-shaped table setting. Though seats were not pre-assigned, guests were supposed to know where to recline. Once the guests seated themselves, the host would come to see the guests as given in the parable of the wedding garment. (Matthew 22:11). That might be the time when the host would ask a low status person who took the prominent seat to move to a low-rank seat for a more honorable guest. So, Jesus said, since the guests were not aware of who all were invited, better to keep a low profile when seated so that a humiliation might not happen later.
(9) and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place.
Since the host used to come and check the seat taken by guests later, or since the prominent guest had arrived last, there were not many seats left. So, the over-proud person would be asked to give his seat for the prominent guest. He would be humiliated in public to change his seat and he would end up getting the least prominent seat.
(10) Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
The humble guest would be honored in public when the host would promote him to a more prominent seating in the banquet. If one wouldoccupy the least prominent seat, there was no chance of shame and only opportunity for higher position. Jesus said in Mathew 23:12: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” This is not a new teaching by Jesus but an adaptation of proverbs 25:6-7. “Claim no honor in the king’s presence, nor occupy the place of superiors; For it is better to be told, ‘Come up closer!’ than to be humbled before the prince.”
(11) For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
There is no chance for exaltation by others for a person who boasts himself. Whereas, humility is honored in secular and spiritual life. Jesus put in action in his life what he taught. Though Jesus could escape himself from the enemies any time, by the end of his public ministry he humbled himself to be crucified with maximum disgraceafter which God the Father exalted him on the third day from the grave. Blessed mother of Jesus, when she was selected to be the mother of the Savior, humbled herself and offered her service to Elizabeth.
Pride and boasting of oneself are indignity in the secular life and sin in the spiritual realm. For God, pride and disregard for less fortunate are sins. Jesus presented examples of proud characters such as rich man in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the unreconciled elder son in the Story of the Prodigal Son, and the Pharisee in the story of the Pharisee and Publican who went to pray. The Pharisees were proud people who considered themselves as separate and dignified than most people who were low in material and spiritual resources. But their pride, and disregard for those lower than themselves would lead to their humiliation in front of God.
(12) Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Jesus turned his focus of discourse from the guests to the host. He had often attended the lunch and dinner offered by Pharisees and Publicans. They did not mix as we also do in the modern world. All of them used to invite their friends, relatives, or people of their economic and social status. When we make a list of whom to invite for a banquet we host, we usually select people who had invited us for the dinner they had hosted. Jesus found no spiritual merit in such an invitation. It was self-rewarding. Instead, he wanted to teach his host how he could get credit from a banquet in front of God by feeding those who do not have food to eat or to return any favor. Then the repayment would come from God. “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed.” (Proverbs 19:7).
(13) Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
Jesus taught and acted differently from the rabbis of the time. In contrast to the popular belief of the time, Jesus considered“the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” as dear to God. Though Jesus did not offer any dinner for such people because he could not afford to do so, he did more than a banquet by healing them. So besides, offering food that was mentioned as an example in the context of banquet, Jesus wants us to offer help for all those who are physically, mentally, or economically weak. The best approach would be to help them resolve their problems with a developmental or self-help approach. Christian churches have been doing such missionary work throughout the centuries.
(14) blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Jesus did not demand a non-meritorious service. All our contributions on behalf of God would be rewarded. “Then people will say, ‘Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.’” (Psalm 58:11). “The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has repaid me.” (Psalm 18:20). This is confirmed in the description of the Final Judgement when, “the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me …” (Matthew 25: 34-25).
- Honor and respect are not something that we should demand or claim for ourselves. They will come now or later when others realize that we deserve them. A Christian should be a humble servant of others imitating Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples.
- The society would often detest those who seek honor and those who complain on the lack of recognition. If we work for reward in this world, the Lord will not give credit for that in heaven.
- Let us be humble and considerate to others so that God would compensate for our humility and charity in the world to come. In the parable of non-considerate Rich man and humble Lazarus, their fate was reversed in their life after death.
- Our hospitality and service just for wage or recompense from people are not meritorious before God. So, let us find means to transform our resources as investment for afterlife by supporting the less fortunate so we can be at the right hand of God at the final judgement.
- Jesus said to his disciples who returned after their ministry: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:20). More than the rejoicing at the success of our selfless labor and honor from others, let us assure that our names are written in the Book of Life by our meritorious acts of charity.