Homily from the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2013
We might imagine the scene at the banquet that Christ encountered in today's Gospel and that prompted his remarks. Why would the guests be vying for places of honor? What might have been their motivation? Let’s look at a few possible guests who are fighting over seats:
Maybe the first is from a family that has been in town for generations. He is from a big family that has always looked out for their neighbors and has run a good and honest business. Looking around the room, he could point to an instance in which either he or one of his family members has reached out to help each of the guests around that table. Some of them work for him or rely on his business. He has been active in building up the community and is clearly one of the leaders in the town. Of course he would never fight someone for the seat of honor, but it is clear to him that everyone in the room expects him to take the place of honor because of his standing in the community. In a sense it is his responsibility, his duty to take one of the places of honor.
But he finds another guest in his way: a guest who is new in the community and doesn’t know as many people. He would love to sit up where the important people are so that they can really get a sense of his abilities and how blessed his family is. He makes sure to tell Ezra from the Camel store about how his son was just accepted into the most prestigious pharisaic school in all of Judea.
And his wife has made the most wonderful desert for everyone. He has lots of stories to tell. He is sure that they will love to hear about them – and in fact, he is happy to allow his family and his success to be an inspiration to the others.
But there is a third guest who stands in his way, also vying for a seat of honor. The last time he was at one of these wedding banquets, Eli the butcher started talking down his carpentry shop, saying his chairs broke after a few months and his tables always wobbled. The last time that he was at one of these weddings, he got stuck with Josh the stable boy on one side, and Jake, the shepherd on the other. He had learned all he ever wanted to know about the dietary restrictions for sheep while missing out on all the important conversation at the other end of the table. Securing a place of honor will keep him connected to the important people instead of ending up in the riff raff section again.
Perhaps these are a few portraits of what drives these men playing musical chairs at a wedding feast:
A sense of entitlement and pride
A desire for acceptance and honor
A fear of being ostracized and left behind.
But notice: they are all blind: they have lost sight of the whole purpose of a banquet: which is to come together and enjoy a meal with your friends. Instead they are filled with rivalries and jealousies. They see one another as competitors, and any appearance of friendship between them is just that: appearance. Their anxiety as they vie for the few miserable scraps of honor and recognition and comfort keeps them from entering into a true communion of life, a communion that can only be fed and nurtured by a mutual desire for heavenly food.
Jesus proposes a different seating arrangement for all of us who are gathered together at this table. At the banquet of the heavenly feast that he sets before us, Christ encourages us to seek the food that truly nourishes, to seek first the kingdom of God.
In place of the seat of entitlement and pride in earthly success, Christ leads his guests to the seat of humility. Those who take the seat of humility stand before God with gratitude for his many gifts and look to generously share those gifts with others. He encourages us to work to raise up others, to give others a chance to have the places of honor. To remember that in truth we are not entitled to anything because everything that we have and are is an undeserved gift from God.
In place of the desire for acceptance and honor, Christ brings us to the seat of piety: he reminds us that earthly praise is fleeting: that we should seek to please God above all: that we belong to him, that the praise of the angels and the saints is far more valuable than the mere recognition of earthly rulers.
And in place of a fear of being ostracized of left behind, Christ leads us to his own seat, the seat of the outcast, of the stranger, of the mocked, of the scorned, of the ridiculed – and he invites us to join him for the true banquet. To take our place with the angels and all of the often scorned and overlooked saints who are seated at the table of the Lord, sharing in the joy of his love, singing hymns of praise, and drawn together in an eternal harmony of friendship and peace.