Guests at the Lord’s table
August 22nd, 2016
By Deacon Faiva Po’oi
In today’s readings, our ideas of success, honor and greatness are challenged. In the first reading, the author of Sirach stresses the importance of humility in the spiritual life: the more you humble yourself, the greater you will appear in the eyes of God and others. In the second reading for this weekend, St. Paul compares our lives to a heavenly city – a new Jerusalem – in which God is at the center. In today’s Gospel, this theme of true greatness continues!
T.S. Elliot wrote a play entitled “The Cocktail Party,” in which one of the characters says: “Half the harm that is done in the world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm – but the harm does not interest them or they do not see it, or they justify it, because they are absorbed in an endless struggle to think well of themselves.”
All of us, to some extent, are engaged in an endless struggle to think well of ourselves. Today’s Gospel reading speaks to us concerning this struggle. Jesus had been invited to a dinner party at the home of a prominent Pharisee. The other guests were watching him, and he, in turn, was watching them. When it was time to eat, the guests gently elbowed their way through the crowd, each determined to secure a place of honor at the table.
Jesus saw this and understood. He did not rebuke the other guests for their desire to feel important, for he knew this to be a basic part of human nature. Instead, Jesus encouraged the people to change their idea of true greatness.
Those dinner guests were making the same mistake that you and I so often make. We may not scramble for the places of honor at the dinner table, but we do have ways of promoting ourselves. We do it with the clothes we wear and the cars we drive. We do it with the places we go and the people we know. The basic problem with each of these methods of self-promotion is that they simply do not work, at least not for long! Usually, we do not succeed in fooling many people! But most of all, we do not fool ourselves. The best way to deal with this basic need is to forget about appearances and simply accept the truth that we are important, not for what we have accomplished, but for who we are. No matter what kind of car we drive, no matter what our station and rank in life may be, no matter where we are seated at the table, in the eyes of God, we are important. We are his treasures. We do not have to accomplish this. We do not have to prove it. All we need do is accept it. Each of us is important to God.
This is the message that Jesus continually sought to communicate throughout his ministry. He said: “You are the light of the world and the salt of the earth.” “The hairs of your head are numbered.” “Not one sparrow falls to the ground without the awareness of God. You are more valued than many sparrows.” Jesus said all this to ordinary people – people like you and me.
Each of us is invited to God’s banquet table. At this table, we are nourished at the same time that we are called to share the abundance of God’s life by reaching out to others in need.
Deacon Po’oi serves at St. Timothy Parish, San Mateo.
From August 25, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.