Have you ever played the ‘question game’ as a sort of ice breaker? There is a stack of cards or a book or a whatever, that has random questions on it. You pull the card and answer the question. Your answer tells the people in the group something about you, about what matters, and about what is important in your world view.
So here’s my question: “If you could sit next to one person at a banquet, out of all the people in the history of the planet, past or present, who would it be?” Innocent enough, isn’t it? It could be a great figure from history – Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, General Eisenhower. I could be a literary figure – William Shakespeare, Henry Thoreau, even a Daniel Brown. Or on a personal level, it could be the grandmother you never met, but heard stories about, or the uncle who died in the war or the great grandmother who made the voyage from ‘the old sod’ to America and founded your family. Whom you choose tells us something about you.
During the time of Jesus, they ‘played’ that game all the time. However, they played it for real. When you were invited to a banquet, as the hosts were providing the ritual washing of your feet in the courtyard of the house, you quickly sized up the other guests, decided who you wanted to be with and then you made a bee line to the chair next to them, so you didn’t have to spend the evening talking with someone who was ‘boring’, or who saw the world differently than you did. Like got used to sitting next to like, people of one social status sat next to others of the same social status, and so it went. (Really, is this that much different than what happens every day when you look for a place to land at the Nosh, or when you arrive a wedding reception and scope out the available tables?) It is not a bad thing necessarily, and it certainly is a very human thing. And though an evening like that might be entertaining and enjoyable, do you really learn much that is different about the world in that sort of setting? Or rather, does the circle tighten as like minded conversations reinforce the same kind of views?
So watch what Jesus does when he sees that ‘game’ going on. “Sit next to someone you would not normally associate with. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn about them, about life and the world.” And, as one who always looked at ways to change the social order, always looked for ways to raise up those on the bottom of society, the implicit invitation was: “If you do get called ‘up higher”, you’ll be able to advocate for them – because you’ll know their world view from their perspective, see their struggles, have a sense of what it is to walk a mile in their shoes. From them, you’ll learn how to change the world so all share the world as the brothers and sisters we are.”
“And when you are inviting people, he continues, when you are thinking about who you want to sit next to you at a banquet, instead of the usual suspects, think about the kind of things that you want to learn, and who the people are who can teach you that. Those are the people to ask: Invite the poor who have learned how to depend upon God for everything. Invite the crippled and lame who can teach you about how to rely on others to get through. Invite the blind – the ones for whom their other senses have become so acute – for they can teach you how to be so aware of the world around you, its needs, its injustices, as well as its hopes and dreams. If you do this – then you’ll learn the humility I have come to teach you. Then you’ll know what it is to sit at the heavenly banquet.”
Nor are these empty words from our savior. This is his third banquet with the Pharisees with whom he is in a pretty antagonistic relationship already. Luke notes: “They were watching him CLOSELY.” Jesus wanted to understand them, and they – him. He wanted them to recognize there was a common humanity deeper than their differences of opinion that called them to a relationship of love and mutual recognition. That was the humility Jesus sought after and was modeling that day.
There is a simple quote from St. Vincent de Paul that might tie this all together. “There is not one person alive from whom I cannot learn something about God and life and grace.”
SO – Spend some moments in prayer around these two questions:
First: What do I (still) need to learn and who do I need to ‘sit next to’ so that I can learn that?
Secondly, what have I learned about those on the bottom that I can ‘bring up higher?” Perhaps it to advocate for the unborn. Or the illegal immigrant. Or those in prison. “Who is the Lord inviting me to ‘bring up higher?” Pay attention to the ads and articles in the run up to November’s election and see what continually strikes your heart. Then trust that those are the people God is asking you to represent…
The good news this day is that we are all invited to sit next to the guest of honor – Jesus. Might we heed his example of humility, and learn from each other how to be brother and sister to all…