Parties of this nature is an occasion of social importance. The guest list is, by and large, composed of people of the same status, class and those particularly close to the host, family, relatives, friends and wealthy neighbors which suggests tacit approval of lifestyles, reciprocity, sharing of values and assigned seating. It is then a mark of honor and esteem to receive an invitation about a formal banquet. While others love to flaunt their fabulous dresses to be seen by many, if not all, in such a gathering, I am not one of them. It goes without saying that the host cannot just pull anyone out in the street not unless it was a no- show. But even if, to do so would be considered a breach of etiquette. Similarly, in the mediterranean world, returning a favor is an all- important element in a party which is more than a matter of common sense as it is about honor. If you take me to a fine- dining restaurant, for heaven’s sake, I am expected to do the same and not settle with a drive thru food of last resort. If it exceeds my limited budget, which, most likely, it’s heading towards that direction anyway, I resist and decline it.
When Jesus told the hustling guests jockeying for a comfortable and prominent seat to instead occupy a humbler location, he did it to strike a case about God’s guest list. The Gospel then isn’t about table manners and etiquette but how to get an entry into God’s dinner party. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14: 11). If you wish to be invited, humility is your gate pass and not your extravagant outfits and what have you’s. This virtue denotes a recognition of abilities in the sight of God and not its denial. I am just a poor individual. I’ll stay in this little corner in order to be seen and hope to get an upgrade. That’s false humility. Pride, the root of all the vices, is the exact opposite of it. It promotes the ego and excessively regards the self as superior to God and better than anybody else. It’s worth nothing that the humble, the unassuming and the unpretentious will be ahead in the end of time. Towards the end, Jesus blatantly said to the host (something I cannot imagine myself doing) not to invite those who can repay but the ones who can offer nothing in return: the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind as a remarkable sign of Christian identity.
This message is an overturning of our cultural understanding, age-old practices and standard protocols which if met with a frown of disapproval and disbelief, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to me considering the content. However, it is what it is. Amen.