September 1, 2019
XXII Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Last Sunday, we saw how in this part of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem the invitation to enter the Kingdom, to let ourselves come face to face with salvation, echoes several times. We saw that letting ourselves encounter this salvation is not easy, not because it demands special actions of service, but because it is to enter through the narrow way of unmerited salvation, given freely to all.
The Passage of today’s Gospel (Lk 14:1-7, 14) moves along this line: it is two brief accounts where the Gospel paradox resonates with great force.
The first (Lk 14:7-10) is rather strange: a wedding banquet, and Jesus tells the invitees not to sit in the first place, to prevent someone else coming to remove them from there, to make them go to the last place. The account is very realistic and more current than one would think. It is not simply an invitation to be humble and shy, and it does not, evidently, only concern an exceptional event, like an invitation to dinner. It’s an invitation to act in an authentic manner.
Sometimes, without even realizing it, we spend our lives seeking the “first place”, allowing room in our heart for greed, for the desire to possess, for competition. We want to appear what we are not, to leave a good impression. We are concerned with what others will say about us. In other words, we try to avoid any negative situation, any strain and stress, anything that may seem a shortcoming. Our hearts are sick with this disease. And that’s to pursue the illusion of not needing anyone, or being better than others, or even being more appreciated or loved.
Biblical history often gives examples of this dynamic. The first is Adam who, wanting to avoid obedience to God, to make himself like Him to take the first place, later finds himself in the last place and full of shame, just like the invited one of today’s parable. And he finds himself outside of Paradise, of that dignity and that place that the Lord God had assigned to him. This was not because God is evil and punishes, but simply because, as Jesus seems to tell us today, that the manner of living elbowing to get first places is a lie, and it cannot last for long. It is like the house on land about which the parable (Lk 6:49) says: it collapses in the first bad weather because it is without a foundation. Eventually, you know, with falsehood you find yourself without anything.
Those who, on the contrary, know how to be in the right place, who humbly live their filial obedience to the Lord, are those who can hear the voice of the Lord who speaks to them, who calls them “friend”, who invites them next to Him (Lk 14:10). They know the Lord and have made His style of love their own, and are known by Him.
Looking back at last Sunday’s parable (Lk 13:22-30), we could say that the person who lives in the truth of oneself, of one’s being a creature, a brother beside other brothers, is one who passes through the narrow door and, having arrived before the master, will not hear his dreaded words: “I do not know you” (Lk 13:27), but will enter His house with Him.
The second “parable” (Lk 14:12-14) remains in the context of the invitation to a banquet. And it seems to me that it can be read consequentially to the first part of today’s passage, with two highlights.
The first is that if one who has experienced being called freely by the Lord, being loved and honored without merit, then one is called to do the same in life, to commit to a free and good lifestyle that does not seek one’s own interests, which he/she enjoys in living in communion with all, without any return for him/herself, other than that which comes from the joy of loving.
The second is that if someone has let you enter without personal merit, if he has not left you abandoned outside, then you will learn to have compassion for everyone else, not to let anyone without an invitation, without a home, remain outside.
To conclude, the context in which these parables are told is another typical element: “One sabbath he went to the home of one of the chiefs of the Pharisees to dine and they stood watching him” (Lk 14:1).
We are therefore in a house of Pharisees, and it is for them, above all, that all this is said. Because the narrow door through which we must pass to enter the kingdom, is first and foremost narrow for those who consider themselves righteous, for those who think they deserve the first place, also in the context of faith, of their relationship with God.
In a similar context, Jesus will tell parables of the same tone, which we will hear in two Sundays hence: famous and outrageous parables, in which the mercy of the Father will make a banquet for that son who ended up far from home in profound degradation, and later readmitted to the house through the narrow door of forgiveness and love, with a grand feast.