Whenever I attend a gathering of Catholics, I find that very few people take seats near the front; they’re all in the back! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I blame this behavior on today’s Gospel passage. All good Catholics sit in the back!
But I think those of us who do that may be slightly misinterpreting the message.
Jesus lived in a culture regulated by the social concepts of honor and shame, where people strove to achieve honor and avoid shame. That meant that at a meal one should attempt to get a seat closest to the host which would be the most honorable place to be. As a general rule in that culture, the most distinguished guest sits at the right hand of the host where he receives the highest honor. The second most important guest sits at the left side of the host, and so on. (As I look around, I’m starting to feel a little awkward about where Father/Monsignor and I are sitting at this Mass!)
But Jesus is concerned about something beyond the seating arrangement. He wants us to know that in His culture, there is a different pecking order. Jesus wants everybody at the party.
And, to help us with the transition to the new pecking order, He wants us practice humility; or, in other words, to live His lifestyle.
Humility is the fundamental characteristic of a servant of God. It is Humility that moves us away from seeking honors for ourselves and toward seeking inclusion for others. It helps us recognize our defects, to have a sensible opinion of ourselves, and to willingly submit ourselves to God and others for God’s sake, setting aside our own sense of self-importance. It means serving others, rather than our individual selves. It means providing the opportunity for others to be heard.
If we’re going to connect today’s readings to our daily lives, we need to do way more than just sit in the back of the room. We need to actively add people to the guest list.
In the Body of Christ, there are no distinctions. We should not be inviting someone to the table (or into our lives) just because he or she is rich, famous, educated, or because we need a favor in return. We should be opening our lives to people out of our love for Jesus, so they may joyfully share in our meals, our feasts, our celebrations.
Here are a couple of thoughts that occurred to me:
First, Father/Monsignor, may we be ever aware that our place at this table arises from our service to the community, and not from some honor we have earned.
Secondly, let’s see if we can apply what we learned today to this year’s election process.
To prepare, let’s keep before us the counsel of the writer of Ecclesiastes:
“My child, conduct your affairs with humility”.
Then, let’s stir in what we hear in or Responsorial psalm:
“The father of orphans and the defender of widows
is God in his holy dwelling.
God gives a home to the forsaken;
he leads forth prisoners to prosperity.”
To make an informed decision, it may be helpful to look beyond what the individual candidates are saying; after all, the elected president has to work in tandem with 100 senators, 435 Representatives, and 9 Supreme Court Justices. He or she cannot accomplish anything alone.
Instead, let’s look deeply into each political party’s promises, outlined in their campaign platforms. They published them in writing as they closed each of their conventions.
Let’s go over each line in those platforms, measuring them in terms of what Jesus taught us today:
Does it advocate for the people Jesus advocates for? Does it include those he includes? Does it embrace those he embraces?
And then let the answers to those questions dictate our vote.
And, to be even better informed, let’s take the time to read Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States (en Español), which provides a framework for Catholics in the United States.
Perhaps our votes can bring our country closer to matching the scenario depicted in our second reading:
“…Mount Zion. and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”