St. John Fisher Roman Catholic Church

30 Jones Hollow Road, Marlborough, CT 06447

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time C22

Sabbath dinners were occasions to invite guests who were not family members. That explains Jesus’ being at a dinner hosted by one of the leading Pharisees on the Sabbath. That detail is important for what happens afterwards.

The other guests were observing Jesus carefully. Unfortunately today’s Gospel reading skips over an important scene, leaving out the verses that immediately follow that explains why they were observing Jesus carefully not so much out of curiosity, but as a chance to catch making a mistake, something they could accuse him of by breaking some Mosaic Law. One person there was suffering from dropsy (edema). He was standing right in front of Jesus, an obvious plant to trap him. Jesus asks a question, “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?” The scholars of the Law, the Pharisees and the rest of guests remained silent. Jesus knew intuitionally what they doing. After healing the man, Jesus dismissed him and pointed out their hypocrisy by asking another question, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” But they were unable or unwilling to answer his question because they would have to admit they would do it.

Now, back to the reading. While they observing Jesus closely, he was noticing their behavior. I can imagine there was merriment in his eyes as he watched them jockeying for the seats of honor, as close as they could get to the seat of their host, something like a game of musical chairs. The most important seats were on the right and the left of the host (cf. James and John asking Jesus for that honor in Mk. 10:35-38).

Jesus offers them a very pragmatic action to avoid humiliation; take the lowest seat! You may be invited by the host to come up higher, winning the esteem of the other guests! Self-serving advice, to be sure, but good advice in a society that concerned itself about appearances and honor. Imagine if some took that advice. The next dinner or wedding feast they would push and shove each other to get the worst seat in the house! Jesus is echoing the advice from Sirach: “. . . conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are; and you will find favor with God.” 

Jesus then fixes his attention on the host, offering advice on the guest list. Sabbath dinners were hosted by different people each week. Therefore Jesus is also proposing to the guests who were expected to reciprocate by inviting the guests and the host of this particular dinner. Jesus says, “Break with tradition by inviting people who cannot repay you. Imagine reaching out to the widow next door or to a poor person who depends on others for shelter or food (like Jesus) or to a neighbor you haven’t met or considered before and saying, “Would you do me the honor of eating at my table?” Imagine the richness or the difference of the conversations if we invited at least one new person or a couple to our usual guest list.

One last point about the saying: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Beware of false humility! Humility is a virtue of honesty, recognizing one’s limitations as well as the gifts and talents one has to offer. False humility when receiving a compliment for anything you had done says something like, “Anyone could have done it” or “I happened to be at the right time”, pausing and silently hoping for more praise. True humility says only, “Thank you”, no if’s, and’s or but’s added, just “Thank you.” 

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