The one who humbles himself will be exalted.
In the First Reading, St. Paul writes to the Romans “Has God rejected his people? Of course not!” (Romans 11:1-2a) And continues, “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” (v.29) These points are so strongly echoed in our selection from Psalm 94, “The Lord will not cast off his people” (v.14) and “When I say ‘My foot is slipping, your mercy, O Lord, sustains me.’” (v.18) And then the Gospel. Jesus instructs, “Do not recline at the place of honor.” Instead he says to take the lowest place, so the host can ask you to move closer to the place of honor.
On the surface, this sure looks like a social-status-climbing chess game to me. I could just hear people saying, “OK, I get it. I’ll sit down there because that way I’ll get the greatness and recognition I’m after.” That sounds pretty hypocritical and selfish to me, and I don’t believe that’s what Jesus really intended as his point.
How many times have you heard the saying “It’s better to give than to receive”?
Well I don’t know about you, but I remember first hearing that as a kid, and thinking to myself “Well, that’s pretty stupid. It’s AWESOME to get stuff.” As time passed, though, I began to accumulate so many things that I was running out of space to keep them. So I did what any other normal person would do in that case. That’s right – I built a shed to hold all my stuff… stuff I really didn’t need, or want. Ultimately, it really weighed me down.
It’s funny, in a sad way, how that transferred to my spirit and emotion. I also held on to pain and hurt. I held on to mistakes and brokenness. I made space in my heart to house the betrayal and horror I had experienced. It was like a trailer, covered with a mountainous pile of the past, on top of which I was sitting, the ceiling right at the top of my head. I was unable to take any more. I had no more room, and there was no place to build a shed.
If I were a betting man, I’d wager I’m not alone in this experience.
And then one day in church I heard this Gospel (for probably the 100th time), and it hit me. It wasn’t at all about looking good in front of your friends. I heard Jesus explain that by humbling yourself, you are actually becoming more open to God’s call. Being empty means God has room to fill you up! It got me off my mountain, brought me home, and helped me prepare a place in my heart to house love, care, compassion, forgiveness, and peace. Ultimately, it gave me a gift so huge I’ll never be able to house it… it brought me closer to God. And that, my friends, is a gift worth having room for.
So let me ask you… what space at the table do you need to leave behind?
What things must you let go of in order to have space for God to work miracles in your life?
Let’s all pray to hear our Host say to us, “Come.”
“Dear God, thank you for all the gifts you offer us. Please grant us the grace to always be empty enough to accept your call to rise, and sit closer to you. Amen.”
Paul Puccinelli is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Rita Parish in Sierra Madre, CA, and a member of the Retreat-Team at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center.