In this Gospel reading, we again find Jesus teaching through a parable – but this time we get two for the price of one. But they both deal with the issue of hospitality.
Jesus is invited to Sabbath dinner at the home of a Pharisee; there are lots of important people there and they are all watching Jesus to see what he will do. These Pharisees were gathering information that will later be used in Jesus’ trial in Jerusalem.
At these feasts, the tables were usually arranged in three levels so that the most important people were at the elevated tables where they could see and be seen. When Jesus noticed that the invited guests were jockeying for the ‘best’ seats, he used a parable to speak of the quality of humility.
The people trying to get the best seats felt they deserved it because of their position/reputation. Or those people who wanted to be seen as important even if they weren’t . . . sort of guilt by association. This was the time before place cards, so there was a free-for-all as people arrived – each one trying to get the most visible and honored seat.
Jesus’ warning to them was to consider the embarrassment if the host had intended those seats for others and asked them to move.
Can you imagine how you would feel if you were seated where everyone could see you and then had to move to a lesser table?
Your ego would be deflated and you would certainly lose face in the eyes of the other guests.
But those who chose to sit in a lesser seat would not have to move — or may even be invited by the host to sit at the higher table.
This parable speaks to the humility of God’s children. In ancient times, those seated at the lower tables were considered servants to the upper tables. So, those who chose to sit at the lower tables recognized that although they may have gifts and talents that warranted their sitting in a special place, they were humble enough to realize that these gifts and talents brought them no special treatment. They knew that service, especially service to God, was far more important than prestige.
In the second lesson, Jesus gives a warning to the host that he should not invite only his friends or people who would be obligated to return the favor, but ask those who did not have the means to invite him back in return. As is the custom today, when someone invites you to dinner, you have to reciprocate with an invitation. This is a social obligation which most people do not violate. So it becomes a tit-for-tat. If you want to be seen with prestigious people, invite them to a feast and then they will have to invite you.
But by including those who were poor, crippled, lame and blind, the host would be fulfilling Jesus’ reminder that ‘what you do for the least of these, you do to me’. There would be no expected return from the invitation.
From these parables, we are reminded that we should give back to God with those talents He has given us and we should care for those less fortunate than ourselves.
This is the way to Heaven.
Delivered on 2 September 2007 at Lindley Inn Assisted Living Center, Athens, OH