Luke 14:7-14, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
“When you are invited [to a banquet], go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you, he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position’” (Luke 14:10).
Is Jesus in our Gospel today just telling us a clever way to get a better seat at parties? Is he encouraging us to practice false modesty and fish for compliments? Or can Jesus be teaching us about true humility?
What is true humility? One answer: It is knowing the real basis of our worth.
Someone who goes to a banquet and chooses a place of honor for himself or herself is saying: “I know what I am worth – it is based on what I have achieved.” That someone is also presuming his or her worth is based on his or her self-evaluation.
When we take the lowest place and wait for the Host to come, we are saying, “My worth is not based on what I have done and what I think of me, or on how I have projected myself to others and what they think of me. My worth lies in the Host coming to me.” The Host himself comes to me! This is the one who not only threw the party but is the main honoree, the God who is the reason we can celebrate at all. Who am I that he is mindful of me? That God comes to us – this is the basis of our worth.
If our worth is based on what we have done, then we can fall into the temptation of thinking a company’s CEO is worth more than the security guard who opens the door. In the eyes of the world maybe, but not in the eyes of God. If our worth is based on our successes, then we can fall into the temptation of thinking an Olympic gold medalist is worth more than the struggling athlete who despite all his or her efforts still cannot make it past a qualifying round. In the eyes of the world maybe, but not in the eyes of God.
Our worth lies in the eyes of God. He comes to us, looks at us, and says, “You are my child.”
We can abuse this, of course, reduce it to ridiculousness, and just say, “Well, if that is the case, then I am just going to sit here, scratch my belly, and do nothing else. I am already precious.” But if I think this, I have not truly realized that God has indeed come to me and now gazes at me. If I did, then I would want God to see the best me I can be. The best me – not better than this or that other person, just the best me I can be. This is how I would like to interpret the words “Move up to a higher position.”
We can ask, of course, “But if God values me so much, why are there other people higher than me – richer, better off, and seemingly more blessed?” But if I ask this, then I have already taken my eyes away from the God who is looking at me. I have chosen to look instead at the other guests around me. When I start counting what they have, I start to lose sight of the blessings I have been given. When God comes to look at me, I should fix my eyes on him.
A spiritual exercise that has helped a lot of my friends: Imagine God looking at you and smiling – not sneering, not smirking, but smiling. This is where our true worth lies.
When I was still teaching high school, a parent of one of my students who had failed came to see me. She said that she felt like a failure, too. Maybe she did not tutor her son enough. Maybe she was not encouraging enough. She even started questioning if maybe she did not give him proper nutrition as a baby. Because I did not really know what to say, I suggested the spiritual exercise above. This story does not end with her son miraculously becoming an honor student. But the spiritual exercise helped her see that she was not a failure. And when she stopped seeing herself as a failure, she stopped seeing her son as a failure, too. Yes, her son was not academically gifted, but he had other gifts. And she could look at her son and smile again.
Maybe you can try this spiritual exercise, too. Imagine God looking at you and smiling. Push it even further: What do you imagine God saying to you? Now take a step back. Imagine this whole scene taking place at a party. Your life right now – whatever you may be going through – is a banquet. You may be in financial ruin, your relationships may be a mess, but there is still reason to celebrate. God has come to you, is looking at you, and is smiling.