The Gospel for the twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time has two parts to it.Jesus has been invited to the house of a prominent Pharisee. It is the Sabbath and it was the practice to invite guests for a meal at the conclusion of the synagogue service. The atmosphere is charged, people are carefully looking at Jesus, checking him out and wondering what he might do. Luke writes that Jesus takes this occasion to tell them a parable. That’s a pretty clear clue that this is not a moral teaching, nor an instruction on getting ahead at social events, or how to behave at dinners. Parables have more to do with our standing before God, who is the host at "the banquet", to which Jesus is inviting all in need of mercy and acceptance.
The point of the parable is this: When the reign of God comes in its fullness, God will bestow honor on all of us at the banquet table. We, in the meanwhile, don’t need to be anxious, or greedy for honor from God or look for a better place at the table. Instead, we can concentrate our energies on tending to the humbler tasks involved in serving God. Hearing Jesus’ invitation to this banquet, the truly humble disciple puts aside his/her desire for a high position and any claim of one’s own worthiness. These are in Someone else’s hands.
Humility may be the least understood and most maligned of Christian virtues. People have kept themselves in miserable, even abusive situations, all in the name of humility; many times “humbly” accepting their lot in life has caused untold damage to good and caring persons. What we may need in our church today is less false humility and more truly humble people who know their gracious God and speak and act boldly out of their Gospel convictions.
In the second episode of the passage, Jesus speaks about the guest list and who is on it. He has already identified himself with social unfortunates and outcasts. His message is sent along the highways and byways to call them in to the table that he is preparing for them. They are to sit with him at the banquet as honored guests. And we, as his disciples, must understand that they, and anyone who acknowledges their poverty and need before God, are the special recipients of God’s honor. If we really understand this message, we too will invite to the table of reconciliation and equality the very same honored guests - the blind, the poor and those held captive by sin.
The Pharisees saw themselves already comfortably established in God’s favor, just by their birth and religious standing. But they wouldn’t be caught dead with the newcomers that Jesus invites to the table. Yet Jesus sat down and ate with not only with them but also with the outcasts and disenfranchised, to show that all are sinners and all can be reconciled around the table of the Lord.
In all of the "table discourses" of Luke’s gospel, Jesus breaks through the barriers that society and religion have constructed. He shows us just exactly who God is and how we are to live a life that reflects this compassionate and hospitable God. We generally don't feel comfortable with people who: don’t speak our language and are not native born; who come from a different economic status; are divorced, gay or single parents; are not as well educated; are unemployed, homeless, handicapped, etc. But this is simply what Jesus is asking us to do.
By claiming to be part of the body of Christ, we are not professing that we are better than everyone else. Rather, we are proclaiming true humility: that we know who we are - sinners, welcomed to the banquet where we are shown once again that we are forgiven friends of God and table companions with Jesus.