Updated: Oct 3, 2022
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
The transition from elementary to middle school can be quite jarring to some children, not only because it involves a larger student body integrating children coming from many elementary schools, but also because it can bring about a child’s first experience of riding a school bus.
Among adolescent children, riding in the back of the school bus can be seen as a sort of status symbol; a sign that someone has been accepted by a reigning peer group within a school’s “popular” circles.
But how quickly comes the end of the ride. It lasts maybe fifteen minutes. At one end of the journey is the school, where education is of more lasting consequence than one’s social standing among tweens. And at the other end, the final destination is home; where ideally, one is loved, nurtured, and accepted unconditionally.
Yet, despite the brevity of a bus ride, how unfortunate it can be when “backseaters” equate their seat on a shabby school bus with their value in the larger society; and when “frontseaters”, who were marginalized over such a brief period, carry home within their hearts, scars that can last for many years. Inflated egos at one end, and wounds at the other, complicate what would otherwise be an uneventful ride to school.
In our gospel passage, we see a similar social posturing. But rather than places of honor on a school bus, we hear about places of honor at table. Nevertheless, the mindset that Jesus criticizes is just as childish in the grand scheme of things.
At the time of Christ, one’s place at the meal was of utmost social importance. Where one sat spoke volumes as to one’s place in the social hierarchy. Jesus noticed how guests chose for themselves places of honor. And he offers the people very practical words of advice.
This is how you avoid embarrassment and gain honor: “When you attend a wedding banquet, don’t sit in the place of honor; because someone else more important than you might show up; and you’ll have to take a lower place in embarrassment. Rather, seek the lowest place; so that when the host says to you, ‘come, take a higher place,’ you’ll be honored in the eyes of your companions”.
The initial choice of seats has no bearing on the final arrangement. Ultimately, the master of the house will determine who will sit where. And this will be determined before a single bite has even been swallowed. The initial seating is of no lasting importance. Before the first of many courses is served, before any entertainment begins to delight the guests, before any particular honors are mentioned, before any dancing begins, or toasts are made, the master will ensure that all are seated by his estimation of honor.
Likewise in life, we can at times “jockey” for position no better than those in our gospel who choose for themselves places of honor. We can contrive our own senses of honor and worthiness and stratify ourselves according to worldly vanities, despite our best intentions to the contrary. Like those in our gospel, we can be preoccupied with one’s seat at table, rather than simply being grateful for having a place with the master at all. And we can be tempted to waste enormous effort to set ourselves apart in vain like children choosing seats on a school bus.
But just like a brief bus ride must eventually end before the school bell even rings and the real education begins; so also whatever hierarchy we contrive will dissolve before the absolute judgment of our Lord. Our sense of honor has no bearing on the final arrangement. Ultimately, the Lord who will determine who will sit where in the Kingdom of God. Everything else is vanity.
Until the time of our Lord’s coming, we do well to follow the counsel from our first reading:
“My child, conduct your affairs with humility; and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”
Jesus was trying to teach the people the truth about real honor in the Kingdom of God. Just like in physics, where we often say: “what goes up must come down,” the same is true—and more—with regard to spiritual physics. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled,” says the Lord; and, “whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.
What he teaches them in parable, he will later show them by example. In the words of Saint Paul:
“Christ Jesus, who through he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Now, there was a special class of people at that banquet that went without mention; namely, the servants. They themselves had no seats, and yet they were welcomed at every place. More than another other, they could walk freely from place to place and were set apart from any ordinary hierarchy.
Unlike the guests, who would presumably return to their respective homes after the banquet, those servants remain in the master’s house. They belong in his household and their place is with him.
It is a beautiful gift and calling to be a servant; to be an extension of the master’s hospitality; to share in his mission and to be his trusted agents in the care of others; they carry out his will and are the means through which the master’s influence is encountered.
Life often opens up opportunities to serve. I invite everyone to embrace those opportunities as they arise. Our parish also has need of those willing to serve. You’ll find in our parish bulletin this weekend a link to needed liturgical ministries. I hope you’ll consider volunteering.
Through the grace of the Mass, may our God inspire within us his Spirit of service.
The Last Supper, by Leonardo Da Vinci, c. 1495- 1498 century. Tempera on gesso, pitch, and mastic.