22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – A Place at Table

The early church saw Eucharist as an integral part of the Gospel message. But in the middle ages a shift happened when the church became engaged in the controversies over the “real presence.” This resulted in an emphasis placed on what Jesus did at the Last Supper and less on what he did and said in his ministry: the focus was then placed on the words of institution (even the word “institution” gives the act a fixed and isolated sound).

wheatandwineRecent polls among U.S. Catholics seem to indicate that issues with the idea of “Real Presence” remain as roadblocks for some.

Biblical scholars teach us that before the Gospels were written down, they were communicated through the lives of the disciples—their deeds, preaching, healing and reconciling ministries. The Good News of Jesus Christ, in its earliest form, was communicated in the Eucharist which, as Paul reminds us, “...proclaims the death of the Lord until he comes” (I Cor 11:26).

Luke’s Gospel has a unique focus on the meaning of the Eucharist. He presents his Gospel in a way that makes the Eucharist and Christ’s message inseparable. And he does this by framing the narrative as a great journey - and along the way, meals and hospitality play a critical role for Jesus and his followers. The disciples are people who have received hospitality and reclined at table with Jesus and therefore they must be like their Master and offer similar hospitality to others, especially the poor and outcast.

Meals in Luke’s gospel, whether eaten, or described by Jesus in his teaching, point to the Eucharist and likewise, the Eucharist points back to the Gospel events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This is the story of Jesus and his followers, men and women all on a journey with him to God. During this journey significant moments of revelation happen both at meals with Jesus and when he talks about meals.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has been invited to the house of a prominent Pharisee. It is the Sabbath and it was the practice to invite guests for a meal at the conclusion of the synagogue service. The atmosphere is charged, people are carefully looking at Jesus, checking him out and wondering what he might do.

Luke writes that Jesus takes this occasion to tell them a parable. That’s a pretty clear clue that this is not a moral teaching, nor an instruction on getting ahead at social events, or how to behave at dinners. Parables have more to do with our standing before God, who is the host at "the banquet", to which Jesus is inviting all in need of mercy and acceptance.

The point of the parable is this: When the reign of God comes in its fullness, God will bestow honor on all of us at the banquet table. We, in the meanwhile, don’t need to be anxious, or greedy for honor from God or look for a better place at the table. Instead, we can concentrate our energies on tending to the humbler tasks involved in serving God. Hearing Jesus’ invitation to this banquet, the truly humble disciple puts aside his/her desire for a high position and any claim of one’s own worthiness. These are in Someone else’s hands.

Thus, Jesus breaks through the barriers that society and religion have constructed. He shows us just exactly who God is and how we are to live a life that reflects this compassionate and hospitable God. We generally don't feel comfortable with people who: don’t speak our language and are not native born; who come from a different economic status; are divorced, gay or single parents; are not as well educated; are unemployed, homeless, handicapped, etc. But this is simply what Jesus is asking us to do. Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem and along the way he is showing his disciples who God is and how they are to live a life that reflects this hospitable God.

By claiming to be part of the body of Christ, we are proclaiming our true identity - that we know who we are: sinners, welcomed to the banquet where we are shown once again that we are forgiven friends of God and table companions with Jesus and with one another.

There is a place for everyone at the table.