When we were children we had to learn a certain number of table manners: don’t put your elbows on the table, don’t slurp your milk, eat your vegetables, don’t try to talk with your mouth full, use your fork and not your fingers, don’t play with your food, sit up straight. That is the way good table manners are learned from one generation to the next.
In the gospel today, jesus seems to be adding a few more do’s and don’ts to our list of table manners. He tells us don’t sit at the place of honor lest you get bumped; do sit in the lowest place because then the only way is up. Don’t invite your relatives and friends to your table; do invite the poor, the handicapped and the rejected. It seems as though jesus is giving us a short lesson on social etiquette: but that’s not what he’s doing.
The gospel today takes place in the setting of a sabbath meal to which jesus has been invited. Jesus observes how the guests are jockeying for position at the table. Within the context of the meal, he gives an insight into the proper attitude and behavior for all who are invited in to his kingdom and who sit at the table of the eucharist.
He says: power, status, social climbing, self-promotion, getting to the top, maneuvering and elbowing for position are not the proper attitudes for participation in the kingdom of god and to sit at God’s table.
Society says that we should control our own destiny, but in the Gospel today, Jesus calls us to something else – humility. True humility is to acknowledge that we are guests at another’s meal. This world is not ours but God’s: all of us are guests at his table, and we should be grateful that we have been invited to be here at all.
It’s a waste of time and energy trying to look important. It’s up to God to seat us where he wants us. As St. Francis of Assisi says: “A Person is what he is in the sight of god, no more.” God invites all people to the banquet of His kingdom: He welcomes the outcast, the poor, the despised, the lowly, the sinner – they are His favorite guests.
In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that God is approachable and welcoming toward those who are humble. God himself is humble in accepting those who come to Him. In humility, we too must try to be open to all, especially those who feel excluded from our community, our parish and our family.
We are to give a chance – perhaps another chance to: to the person who disagrees with us, whose personality clashes with ours. To the never-ending – talkers who take up so much time talking about their own achievements or their chronic aches and pains. To the grippers who dominate conversations with negative criticism constantly complaining about everything and everyone. Even to ourselves by accepting and loving ourselves as we are – not as we would like to be.
In the first reading, Sirach calls us to be “humble so that we can “find favor with God;” – so that we can have a place at His table: a humble person does not pretend to have all the answers but is ready to listen. A humble person is not afraid to acknowledge mistakes. A humble person treats everyone with respect, not mocking them because they lack education, wealth or prestige. A humble person is never jealous of others who have more; nor is he or she condescending toward others who have less. A humble person knows that of himself he is nothing, and will return to nothing except for the life giving Spirit of God.
We have to be humble enough to admit that no matter who we are or how much power or influence we have; basically when you get right down to it, we are all weak and unimportant.
We have to be humble enough to admit that we are hungry and we cannot feed ourselves; Hungry for love and acceptance, hungry for forgiveness, hungry for peace and happiness, and hungry for God and for others.
The readings today call us to humility – to see ourselves as God sees us, and to realize that on our own, we cannot satisfy the hunger of our lives – only God can satisfy us – only he has the power to completely satisfy us – to give us eternal life. “may our hearts be restless until they rest in him.”