Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

22nd Sunday in ordinary times

Reading the gospels, we often come across Jesus partying with all kinds of people — friends, tax collectors, sinners and the rich, etc. He does this for a purpose: to bring the message of the Kingdom to people of all walks of life. In the gospel reading, we see Jesus eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee (Lk. 14:1.7–14). Because His reputation had preceded Him, He was watched carefully by all, as He did them. Having seen enough, Jesus spoke, giving lessons both for the guests, i.e., how to behave at parties and for the host, i.e., whom to invite to his parties.

To the guests, Jesus said, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,... then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place.” Rather, he should take the lowest place, leaving it to the host to ask him to take a higher place. “Then,” Jesus said, “you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.”

What Jesus said was contrary to the guests' and our experience. This is specially true in our “dog–eat–dog” culture wherein everyone believes in his self–importance and aspires to be “first” or at least high up in the social ladder. This attitude has been impressed upon since we were small. For example, as early as kiddie school or first grade, our parents kept on encouraging us to be at the top of the class — not just for our sake but for theirs, too. Who among us has not come across a mother who can not stop talking about her son or daughter being at the top of his⁄her class? This spirit of competition has been ingrained in us since. And to gain status and recognition, some of us will not even hesitate to trample on anyone who will be in the way.

In the “wedding feast of the Kingdom,” THE party that Jesus keeps on talking about, the only acceptable behavior is, “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” And the model for this is Jesus Himself who came to serve and not to be served. We see this at the Last Supper, when He, the Master, washed the feet of the apostles. St. Paul summarizes Jesus' life thus: Son of God though He was, he “humbled Himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).

If there is any model that can approximate Jesus' standard, it is that of a loving mother in her humble service to her family. This is specially manifest at mealtime where she makes sure that every one has enough while she often eats the less delicious portions or even left–overs. In her desire to be of service, she puts everyone else ahead of her.

Which brings us to Jesus' second lesson — for the host: “When you hold a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,... Rather, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Why? Because for Jesus, the poor, crippled, lame and blind occupy first place in His Kingdom. This, perhaps, because they have no one else to turn to except to God.

Whom do we invite to our parties? Those in our social status or higher. Why? Because their presence does not bother our conscience. Besides, they may invite us back or we can ask for favors from them later.

But not so Jesus. He calls blessed those who invite society's outcast: “Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” The gospel imperative seems to be this: At every table, there must be a vacant seat for the poor, Jesus' representative. For did He not say, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt. 25:40). It is people who attend to the poor who “will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” by the Father.

In developed countries, the government pays farmers not to plant certain crops when it anticipates over–production. Why? So that the price will remain high thus benefiting their farmers. The result of this “wisdom of the market?” Half of the world's population go to bed at night hungry. Yet if only rich countries share their surplus with poor countries and rich individuals with their poor neighbors, then poverty could be wiped out from the world! This is the “wisdom of the gospel.” Unfortunately, this has not yet been tried. How right Gandhi was when he said, “The earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs but not enough for every man's greed.”

In the Kingdom which is one continuous wedding banquet, titles, positions and wealth do not count. What counts is fidelity to Jesus' law of love that embraces even and specially the outcasts of society. In His wedding feast, Jesus sits His guests in the presidential table and He Himself serves them — as He did His apostles at the Last Supper. Jesus expects nothing less of us in this life.