The Guest List
#TheGuestList is the podcast for September 1, 2019, We have heard this passage about humility so often, but are we missing its real meaning? Is it humility or a trap? Listen here FREE and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Luke14 #Pharisees #Banquet #GreatBanquet #Healing #Guests #CatholicTwitter
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 9/1/2019 The 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Luke 14:1, 7-14.
I do not know if this is a thing in other cultures, but I know when we were planning my wedding, oh so many years ago, and making a guest list, we decided that we would not invite a certain part of the family because they always came to wedding receptions with gallon sized zip lock bags to load up with the food from the wedding. Seriously.
It would be easy for us to get caught up in this Gospel lesson and think that Jesus is giving us good practical advice to not place ourselves in a spot where we would be humiliated because of our pride, or that we should be generous in who we invite to our banquets. So, it could seem like we are thinking about whether or not we should invite the gallon zip lock bag crowd.
Again, when we have passages from the Bible read in little snippets without reading the whole story, we can get ourselves in trouble. These stories that Jesus tells are not just advice, they are parables. They are somehow teachings about God and his Kingdom. Are the messages for today be humble and be generous? Well, there is a short homily! Let’s take a step back here and get the whole story.
First, Jesus is at a banquet of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were serious lay people who held themselves out as purists and holy people. We have those in the Church. Just look at a thing often referred to as “Catholic Twitter”. It is a subcategory of Twitter that is filled with people concerned about how to be holy. Latin Mass, veils on heads, only touch this, don’t touch that fills Catholic Twitter. The Pharisees were the Catholic Twitter of Jesus’ day. These people did not approve of this Jesus character who went around reinterpreting the Torah in ways that were merciful and seemed to not have anything to do with being ‘truly holy.’
So, let me ask a question that should have been asked with the very first verse of this passage: “Why are the Pharisees inviting Jesus to dinner?” It is sorta like the NRA inviting the students of the Parkland Florida shooting to a banquet with a Q and A session. Or, the National Organization for Women who are ardent abortion supporters inviting Ben Stein, the ardent conservative mouthpiece to a banquet with Q and A. The purpose is a trap.
Look, the banquet is on a Sabbath. There are even more laws and interpretations of laws that apply to the Sabbath. So, they have invited Jesus, the one they cannot stand, to a banquet so that they can trap him, expose him as a fraud, and regain their standing as the authority of the people on matters of following God. These folks, these Pharisees, as we will see in Chapter 22, are deadly serious enough to kill Jesus because of the threat he is to their standing.
So, in walks Jesus to this trap and he immediately, which not included in our reading, heals a man on the Sabbath. Why are you “working on the Sabbath?” would be the question to Jesus. His answer basically is that our priority is life and healing, not keeping the rules. Keeping the rules is the lowest level of being faithful. We often think that keeping the rules is the highest form of faithfulness, but it isn’t.
There is more to being faithful than keeping rules. God is about life. God is about preserving life, enabling life, making us thrive. In short, God is about abundant life. Not in riches on earth, but in terms of worship, service, generosity, and kindness. What is more kind, good, or holy than to use the power of God to heal a man of something that has been tormenting him his entire life?
So, at this political trap banquet, Jesus notices that these paragons of holiness; these people who are teachers of others about holiness; they are jockeying with each other for the best seats. How does the guest respond to this? He just whips out a parable about how stupid that is and how pridefulness can lead to embarrassment, at the very least. It is to ask a simple question, “Why are holy people who represent the giving and loving God fighting over position and place?” Why is that the preoccupation? Why isn’t serving God and serving humanity the focus? Why isn’t changing the order of the world so that it is more kind and loving the focus?
Then, after he pokes them in the eye about their pridefulness, he then goes after the whole focus of the banquet. We have read this passage too much. It has become too familiar. Why would he even be talking about the guest list if the problem wasn’t with the whole affair? Why do you have banquets as the people of God? Do you have them to congratulate each other at how holy everyone is? Do you have banquets as the people of God to entrap someone so you can kill them? That sounds like a mafia set up, not people dedicated to living a life of holiness.
The point of this whole scene, Pharisees who hate Jesus inviting him to a banquet to entrap him so they can discredit him, or even kill him, is prideful. It assumes that the Pharisees have the high seat at God’s banquet already. To that, I say, you have no idea who the honored guest really is and if you did, you would not be trying to entrap him. Before we get all high and mighty and look down at the Pharisees, we can only be convicted ourselves.
If the Church is the banquet, are we not guilty of trying to be holy enough to win a seat in the Kingdom of God? This passage is as much an exposing of the Pharisees as is it is a warning to us. All of these instances that Jesus is bringing up go to the heart of our thinking and our intent. Being a follower of Jesus is more than just following rules that can be checked off so that we get into heaven. That would mean the Cross meant nothing. Because we are followers of Jesus our mindset and what we value must be different than the world.
We do not value awards, honored seats at banquets, being the greatest nation, or having the most money. That means nothing to us. Our values are if everyone in the world has enough to eat. Does everyone know that God loves them enough to sacrifice his own Son for their salvation? Why do we have poor and homeless when we have enough money to solve the problem? Is it more important to us to blame someone or is it more important to make sure everyone has what they need?
It is our place to tell the world how God would like us to live, yes. Is it our place to condemn others when they do not do what we ourselves are unable to do? Does it make a difference whether our way of not following God is more socially acceptable by the rules of our culture? If that is the case, then who really is our god? God? Or the culture? If it is the culture then we are seeking an honored seat at the banquet of our culture.
To be the prophet is not to be the judge. God alone is the judge. Anything else is to puff up our selfish pride. When someone does not live up to what God wants, our disposition is sorrow and a desire to help, not judgment and pride. Again, keeping the rules is the lowest level of faith. If we really wish to be at the honored place in the Kingdom of God, it is our mindset that needs to change and change completely. God and humanity come first, then everything else follows. Amen.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian