22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – A Place at Table

Luke’s Gospel has a unique focus on the meaning of the Eucharist. He presents his Gospel in a way that makes the Eucharist and Christ’s message inseparable and he does this by framing the narrative as a great journey. Along the way, meals and hospitality play a critical role for Jesus and his followers. Jesus sees his disciples as people who have received hospitality and reclined at table with him. Therefore they must be like him and in turn offer similar hospitality to others, especially the poor and outcast.

wheatandwine But there is a great obligation that comes along with this: to bring the principles of the Gospel out of the church building to the market place, to the home, to the work place. We have to give courageous witness to our own concern for the rights of others, for the dignity of each individual, for justice and honesty in our relationship with others.

The story in today's Gospel has much to teach us about God and about ourselves.

The message of Jesus is not one of silent meekness. It is a challenge to action, a call to giftedness, to peace, to mutual respect and support. In the Gospel, Jesus sets down a very basic principle. Be willing to be considered the last, and the least and then prove yourself. Let your goodness, your gifts become evident, so that you will be invited to "come up higher." Be respectful of those around you, acknowledge talent and effort and success in others, without jealousy or envy. As you move upward, bring others up with you. Be a peacemaker, a reconciler, not a spoiler or a divider.

There needs to be a shift in our perception of God from The One who looks down on us, to The One who looks upon us with love, and can smile at what he sees. To think correctly about who we are as a community, we must adapt our vision accordingly. We must realize that we are not simply a liturgical community, concerned only with rubric and the "how" of worship. We are a Eucharistic community, which gathers together to be nourished by the bread of Life and who leave the table to become that bread for others. This is the ministry that Jesus calls us to.

Most people make their way to God in the daily grind of life, coping with relationships, loving, forgiving, finding time for each other, surviving hurt and bearing pain and loneliness. There are so many persons, organized or not, who truly minister to those of their community in need. Many of these "grass-roots" movements go unnoticed. Most would shun the notoriety, anyway. But real ministry is, in fact, going on - real service, true "tending of needs." And most of these folks see very little of importance in the needless debates of the "experts" in religious business. They just do it.

It's a pretty clear clue that this parable 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." Jesus invites to the banquet all who are in need of mercy and acceptance. That pretty much includes all of us. 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 and others.

Thomas Merton once wrote that the only way in which we can at last enter into the possession of the reality of God - which lies at the very roots of our existence - is to stop talking about it. To grasp the reality we must lay our hands on it, by just living it out in our daily lives.

Accepting Jesus’ invitation, we sit with him at the banquet as honored guests. And we must understand that anyone who acknowledges their poverty and need before God are the special recipients of this same honor. If we really understand this message, we too will invite to the table of reconciliation and equality the very same honored guests -  the poor, the suffering and those held captive by the brokenness of this world.

There is a place for everyone at the table.