Sirach 3:17-18, 20- 28-29
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24
Luke 14: 1, 7-14
"Religion as a source of consolation is an obstacle to true faith." – Simone Weil (1909-1943)
I do not come from a family of great traditions. Unless of course you call being of Irish ancestry, having a large extended family, and getting the brood together every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter having traditions. To me there was nothing traditional about this. It wasn’t something planned out, thought through or executed with any type of symbolism or pageantry as I always supposed "traditions" should be. It was a given in my life, as natural as the air I breathe.
Yet there was one implicit tradition we did "perform" during those gatherings and it revolved around the seating order at the meal. The oldest living Quinn present would always sit at the head of the table and the rest of the adults would follow according to age. We kids always sat at the card tables which were made like a train sometimes extending out of the grandparents’ or aunts’ dining room into the kitchen or beyond. Of course we as kids couldn’t wait until we could sit at the "big table!" And it was always a marked occasion when one of our numbers was officially "invited" from the card table to the adult table. Little did I realize then that that only occurred when one of our elders had gone home to their eternal rest! It was only later when I was allowed a place at the "big table" that through the midst of all the screaming babies and jostle of silverware did I notice that when grace was said we always remembered those who held the place of honor at that same table years before.
I haven’t thought of this family "tradition" in years, but today’s Gospel brought it rushing back to me. Jesus’ words about having a place at the table and where you would sit really struck a cord in me. I wonder how many of us now want to be invited to the "big table" or maybe even think we deserve a place there! On a global scale I think about who would even be invited to the table??? Would it be my aunts and uncles, cousins and nieces and nephews who all look alike, dress alike, speak the same language or even share the same faith? I truly doubt it.
Throughout his preaching Jesus always used the image of a feast, a celebration, a festive gathering to describe His Kingdom. It is no different here. Jesus tells us his table will include all those folks we are not necessarily comfortable with…"the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind" … not because we should feel sorry for them, but because they have a right to be at the table. Even before many of us do!
Yes, the uncomfortable but real truth of this Gospel is that AIDs impacted African Mother, the gay drug addicted teenager, the hard working illegal alien, the Muslim Imam and the foul mouthed mentally unstable child will all be called by Jesus to come to the "big" table of the Kingdom before us. And if we have love enough we might be invited too. And if Jesus offers us the head of the table would we truly love him enough to refuse it and give it to the AIDS Impacted African Mother or one of the others? I wonder? Now there is the test!
Patrick Quinn ([email protected]) is the director of Planned Giving at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago.