The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 24, 2001 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
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 Sabbath.

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 alone exalts.

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.)

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