The Word of God

Very Unmusical Chairs

Reflection on Mass Reading for November 3, 2018

“On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.” Again we have one of the three installments from Luke’s Fourteenth Chapter of that same evening when Jesus went to eat at the home of one of the leading Pharisees. The first involved the healing of the man with dropsy, this is the second incident when Jesus notices that people are scrambling for the places of honor, and the third moment will conclude with His parable about the great feast thrown by a wealthy guest whose invitees all had excuses and declined the invitation. That must have been some dinner! Now there have been literally hundreds of opinions and commentaries written that attempt to unlock the mystery and meaning of these beautiful passages. Some try to make comments about social eating practices and pseudo-religious self-righteousness of the people of that time, while others will comment on the aspects of humility and generosity, while still others make direct application to feeding the poor and hungry and doing things for people who could never repay you. Trust me, each of these angles certainly have great merit. A humble person does not have to wear a mask or put on a facade in order to look good to others who do not know who he really is. A giving person is clearly happier than a stingy one. Hypocrisy is a real disease. Excellent.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” However, there is evidence of deeper meaning present which is suggested by the context of the passages, namely, the banquet. In the Scriptures, there are many mentions of meals and celebrations which clearly point to the heavenly banquet after we finish this life. Thus, spiritual disease down here translates to a quarantine for the eternal celebration; neglecting the poor and starving now means we become spiritually impoverished and famished for heaven later, and collecting rewards and accolades from the audiences of this world powerfully suggests there’ll be no applause, added benefit or honor in the next world that never ends. This particular approach to Chapter 14 also sheds light on the Gospel of today, hidden, perhaps, in the two different directions that a person is directed after entering the banquet hall and before the meal is served: “My friend, move up to a higher position… would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place.” Higher or lower. Up or down. Heaven or hell. Therefore, when Jesus comments on all the folks who are scrambling to get to the really good seats, it is very likely that the inescapable lesson not to be missed is about presumption. Just because in our mind, based on all the limited information and knowledge at our earthly disposal, we assume that we are definitely going to heaven or that awful neighbor of ours is certainly not, that might not be the case. Thank God for mercy!

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