The Gospel On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." -Luke 14:12-14
About This Week's Prompts for Meditation
Job, when he builds a new life after all his troubles, constructs his house with four entrances so that guests might come from all directions. This reflects a midrash describing Abraham's tent being open on four sides for the same reason: radical hospitality. The point is not so much that one might entertain angels unawares, but something far more challenging. The rich and varied folklore of Christ or Elijah disguised as the stranger or beggar (or harlot, sexton, matchmaker, Roman soldier, Arab, Persian, elegant horseman) alerts the listener of the tale to look beyond appearances into the holy. Never turn away the stranger at the gate, say these stories. A habit of wondering if the beggar is the Christ is good training.
Jesus takes it further: go out of your way, into the streets and alleyways to find the poor, the blind, the lame, the unwanted, the unclean, and bring them to the feast you've prepared just for them, and for no other reward for you than the privilege of offering hospitality and sharing God's good gifts.
The meditations: Jesus' comment about placing yourself at table reminded me of the concept Dante struggles to embrace in Paradise - the placement of saints in the gyres of planets. Don't you mind being "lower" than the other saints? he wants to know. "His will is our peace," is the answer (meditation one). Francis of Assisi's revelation after forcing himself to kiss the leper illustrates for me the transformative breakthrough of loving neighbor (meditation two). If I am called to the banquet, I am also called to imitate that banquet (meditation three) taking on the role of host just as I have enjoyed being invited myself.
Does Elijah use email, I wonder ... -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) The Seating Arrangement in Paradise Dante asks Piccarda if she doesn't mind her "low" place in heaven. But tell me, you whose happiness is here, Have you no hankering to go up higher, To win more insight or a love more dear? She answers that their love has laid their wills to rest, anything that "jangles" with the will of God is not desirable. The saints wills united to God IS bliss. Nay, 'tis the essence of our blissful fate To Dwell in the divine will's radius, Wherein our wills themselves are integrate;
Whose being from threshold until threshold thus Through all this realm doth all the realm so please, And please the King that here in-willeth us
To His own will; and His will is our peace. -Dante Alighieri c.1265-1321 Paradise, Canto III 64-6, 79-85 trans. Dorothy Sayers
Dante and Beatrice in the Stars, Danteworlds Website, University of Texas at Austin
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, "Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" Then Jesus said to him, "Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.' Another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.' Another said, 'I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.' So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.' And the slave said, 'Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.' Then the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.'" Luke 14:15-24 People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last. Luke 13:29-30
The Paradise, Roelandt Savery, 1626, Everyone's Invited
Meditation Two (insight) In disguise He was riding listlessly in some wayside place, apparently in the open country, when he saw a figure coming along the road towards him and halted; for he saw it was a leper. And he knew instantly that his courage was challenged, not as the world challenges, but as one would challenge who knew the secrets of the heart of a man. What he saw advancing was not the banner and spears of Perugia, from which it never occurred to him to shrink; nor the armies that fought for the crown of Sicily, of which he had always thought as a courageous man thinks of mere vulgar danger. Francis Bernadone saw his fear coming up the road towards him; the fear that comes from within and not without; though it stood white and horrible in the sunlight. For once in the long rush of his life his soul must have stood still. Then he sprang from his horse, knowing nothing between stillness and swiftness, and rushed on the leper and threw his arms around him. It was the beginning of a long vocation of ministry among many lepers, for whom he did many services; to this man he gave what money he could and mounted and rode on. We do not know how far he rode, or with what sense of the things around him; but it is said that when he looked back, he could see no figure on the road. -G.K. Chesterton 1874-1936 Saint Francis
Meditation Three (integration) invitations to the banquet
Since we ourselves are human beings, we must set before others the meal of kindness no matter why they need it – whether because they are widows, orphans, or exiles; or because they are brutalized by masters, crushed by rulers, dehumanized by tax-collectors, bloodied by robbers, or victimized by the insatiate greed of thieves, be it through confiscation of property or ship-wreck. All such people are equally deserving of mercy, and they look to us for their needs just as we look to God for ours. -Gregory of Nazianzus d.389 Oration14 On the Love of the Poor, quoted from J. Robert Wright, Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church
The Last Word
The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations, and plants the humble in their place. Sirach 10:15
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:16
Detail, The Paradise, Roelandt Savery, 1626
I have a friend who almost drank her life away. And the thing is, I'm so grateful for it. If she ever regrets time wasted by drinking she doesn't say so. She may realize the time spent drinking (O happy fault) itself may have been a grace. I benefit from her daily wonder at life and love and possibilities. I don't believe she would have these transformative traits or share them, if she hadn't had such a long purgatory in booze-land.
Sometimes I make myself sick over the bad things I have done. I never set out on purpose to be bad, but as my actions unfold... well, you know how it is. At least I hope you know how it is. Because if you've never been caught up in sin yourself, how can you ever judge me other than too harshly to bear? But go ahead and cast the first stone, because I suspect you, too, are caught up in sin. If you are reading this on a computer, you're irretrievably mired in this culture of greed, waste, pollution, exploitation and war over the mineral coltan. But I digress.
Anyway, I'm talking about personal sins. Messy, relational, eruptions out of the underground shadows kind of sin. Why ever did I say that kind of sin. How the hell could I have done that because I know better kind of sin.
When I'm making myself sick over my faux pas life, I look to my friend's cheeriness. Her living in the moment. Her prompt making amends over hurtful things she's said. And while she doesn't seem to bite her tongue very often, when she does say something hurtful, you know a good word and genuine remorse will come afterward, the example of which, for me, is more powerful and useful morally than ever the sweet nursing of the hurt could satisfy.
I don't believe in original sin, but I do notice the concept of felix culpa - O happy fault - applies in myriad situations. O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem (O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer) we sing at the Exultet at the Great Vigil of Easter. Referring to the sin of Adam and Eve Paul says where sin increased, grace abounded. I can see that formula at work in the world when I see healing and kindness springing from tragedy and sometimes real evil.
If I'm a Christian, it may be for no other reason than these images of reversals to which I cling: the shepherd forsaking 99 to seek after a single lost sheep, the good pay of the late-in-the-day laborers, the calling of “not the righteous but sinners” to repentance, the hope of my continual redeeming in the moment, and grace abounding even as I fall again and again.
There's no point in elbowing my way toward the best seat in the house. The last shall be first.