In the Gospel reading for this weekend, the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Luke 14:1, 7–14), Jesus is invited to a party and begins to explain to the other invitees of the party something that seems contrary to current cultural and banquet etiquette – to take the lesser position at the table.
Jesus even goes so far as to instruct the man who invited him to the banquet that he should also break etiquette and not invite people who will repay the favor later, but rather those who maybe will never be able to repay the favor. Jesus is not simply offering his opinion on better table manners, but unveiling the way to the kingdom. And this kingdom would have its greatest as its servant of all.
This Gospel instantly brought to mind something that happened when I was just in second grade. The story involves one of my good friends from childhood. I still consider him a good friend to this day. For the story, we’ll call him ‘Donny’. Donny grew up a few blocks from me and we went to the same elementary school. Donny looked kind of different. Donny wore different clothes, wore tape on his glasses and his forearm was in a brace due to some sort of palsy he was born with. Unfortunately, in the small kingdom of grade school, he was a prime target for kids to be cruel. A few of us knew how unrelenting the others could be and decided to befriend him. This was not out of pity or anything of the sort, but because we all truly saw a new friend in him.
My mother, who made it a point to be aware of who our friends were, had met Donny and had heard my stories of people being mean to him. My mom then had suggested to me an opportunity to help my friend. My mom bought a new winter coat, new backpack, sneakers and some other assorted items as a gift to give Donny. My mom went on to explain that we would not be presenting the gift face-to-face as you would at Christmas or at a birthday party, but rather we would be discreetly delivering it to his teacher who would in turn notify Donny’s mother of the anonymous gift.
As a child, I didn’t understand until my mom went on to clarify. She explained to me that we should give all we can without an expectation of it being returned. I took this teaching from my mother with me, even though I did not grasp its fullness at the time. Only through the passage of time and maturity was I able to reap all the riches of my mom’s lesson from my youth. Donny’s family saw many hardships because of their poverty. Our family didn’t have much either, but we gave all we could expecting none in return.
I haven’t really shared this tale with others as it seems like a story set up to want to garner praise from the listener. I share this story not for praise, but because I believe it demonstrates how all of God’s children are able to learn the valuable lessons of charity and humility. We will not be able to stroll into the heavenly wedding banquet with boasts, societal status or with riches if we pay close attention to this week’s scripture readings.
The Responsorial Psalm calls back to the Exodus as it highlights a covenant history. God’s goodness led the Israelite people from slavery to prosperity, rained down the heavenly manna, and gave them a destiny as He became their Father. We, too, have gained a share in His inheritance. We are to be humble, knowing we are not so worthy as to even gather the crumbs from under His table. We also must give alms so we may never forget we were ransomed from sin by the cost of Christ’s blood.
Jesus promises that if we are humble to take the ‘lesser seat’, we will be exalted and find favor with God. Jesus even concludes this passage by referring to the kindness shown to those who will never be able to repay the gesture as he says, “…and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Lk 14:14).
As this week’s Epistle indicates, we can look forward to the realization of these promises in every Holy Eucharist. At the Holy Mass, we enter the festal assembly of the angels and saints of God – the liturgy of the heavenly Jerusalem. We enter a liturgy where Jesus Christ reigns as high priest and as King. We enter a liturgy where He who first called us, now calls us to the ‘higher seat’.
"You will be repaid."