Our Lord offers us what might be termed “simple wisdom” in this Sunday’s Gospel, but wisdom that will nonetheless bear fruit unto eternal life. Jesus is attending a dinner at the house of a leading Pharisee and Luke tells us that everyone is watching Jesus and he is watching everyone else as well. He then turns events of the occasion into a parable.
Jesus is observing the guests as they choose where they are going to sit for the dinner. Both honor and shame were significant parts of life in Jesus’s day, Jewish culture being no exception. On observing his fellow guests, Jesus offers an admonition that it is better to be moved up than to be moved down, the former bestowing honor, the later bestowing shame. Jesus teaches that it is better (and safer) to always seek the lower position. While this may seem to be savvy social etiquette, it also has meaning for our discipleship.
Luke juxtaposes the lowly and the lofty in another place in his Gospel, early on when he records for us Mary’s prayer of praise when she visits her cousin Elizabeth. We call this prayer the “Canticle of Mary” or the Magnificat. In that prayer, recounting the goodness of God, Mary offers praise to the Lord because he “has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.” The Christian life reminds us that seeking high places can result in us holding a very tenuous position. However, if it is God who is doing the lifting then who can bring us back down? Just as with places at table, it is far better to be moved-up than to be knocked-down.
And regarding those who are invited to table, Jesus turns social convention on its head a second time. Jesus tells us that in seeking others to share your hospitality with, do not look for those who can offer you anything in return. This is counter to a society, then and now, that is quid pro quo or “this for that.” In offering hospitality, care, or concern to those who can offer nothing in return, the world cannot second guess our sincerity; however, when we open our lives in generosity for the sake of generosity, do not think that there will not be a return on the gift. The return will be made by God, both with grace in this earthly life and the promise of a greater life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Father Christopher House is the Rector of the Cathedral and serves in various leadership roles within the diocesan curia, namely Chancellor and Vicar Judicial.