Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Find real favor and importance in God
Jesus teaches us as hosts to be open to the poor and needy
September 2, 2001, Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Luke has again placed Jesus in today's Gospel reading in the
setting of a meal. This time it is a Sabbath dinner. According to
the custom of the time, guests were invited to dinners on the
It is on such an occasion that apparently a leading Pharisee
invited Jesus to join the festivities. Luke tells us that the
Pharisee and the other dinner guests watch Jesus closely.
They had probably heard much about this itinerant preacher from
Galilee. They wanted to see him and hear what he had to say. The
Pharisee probably wanted also to know whether Jesus taught an
orthodox message. In a way it was another test.
Luke tells us that on such an occasion Jesus directed a parable
to the host and guests. Luke tells us that Jesus had been
carefully observing the other people invited to the dinner. He
noted how they chose where they would sit.
One can suspect that the places chosen had to do with precedence
and honor. Guests seemed to have vied with one another in having
the best place.
The place of honor, of course, was one which was nearest the
host. If the host chose a certain person that person would be
considered as being favored. A difficulty would arise in such a
public banquet for those who seated themselves and then had to
move down. It would cause shame and embarrassment.
So the parable is about such a situation. Jesus does not
criticize the act of choosing a place but in being arrogant in
thinking about one's self honor.
Jesus has used a social custom to teach that humility is more
important than status. He has turned custom upside down,
stressing that arrogance and self-importance is not the proper
attitude. He instead advocates an attitude of humility and
recognizes that God alone is the one who is important and God
The remainder of the story is Jesus' admonition to his host. He
advises him to reach out to those who are less favored in
society. He suggests that inviting only those who can return the
favor isn't generous.
Since Jesus had openly, in his previous teachings, advocated
openness to the poor and needy, he suggests that his host do the
same. There would be no material advantage for the host but he
would be blessed by God, which would be even more important.
In Jesus' time the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the
dead. So when Jesus expressed a belief that the real repayment
would occur when the resurrection took place, we may surmise that
the host Pharisee would have smiled. We are not told what the
general reaction was.
Jesus thus has challenged the attitudes and behavior of his time.
Our first reading from Sirach, a Wisdom book, was chosen to
emphasize this same point. If pride is a great fault, then
humility should be the virtue one lives by. In that way one finds
real favor with God for such a person recognizes that one's gifts
are given by God and one needs to depend on God.
If we again think that the setting of a banquet points to the
messianic banquet which God will provide and invite those who are
righteous then we can see that Jesus' message is not just about
social custom. The Pharisees believed that they would receive the
best seats at the messianic banquet because they had earned them,
but then they really are left out. Humility is not being passive
but being active in our relationship with God and one another.
(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious
studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)