September 3, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus’ parables: Advice for dinner guests

John F. Fink(Fourteenth in a series of columns)

Jesus apparently never refused a dinner invitation. He told many of his parables during dinners to which he was invited. Evidently, he was criticized for this because he said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ ” (Lk 7:34 and Mt 11:19).

Jesus certainly was not a glutton or a drunkard. He made that statement, surely a bit of hyperbole, when he was comparing himself to John the Baptist, who ate little food and drank no wine. It was after John’s arrest and Jesus was explaining that John was the precursor of the Messiah spoken about by the prophet Malachi.

However, the criticism that Jesus was a friend of, and ate with, tax collectors and sinners was accurate. One of those times was after he called Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him.

Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 9:10) says, “While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples” (see also Mk 2:15). Jesus explained that he had come not to call the righteous but sinners.

I don’t know if many, or any, of my readers are tax collectors, but I know that you—we—are all sinners. That qualifies us to invite Jesus to our meals to bless us and the gifts which we are about to receive from God’s bounty.

One of the pieces of advice that Jesus gave (not really a parable) occurred while he was dining at the home of one of the leading Pharisees (Lk 14:7-14). He observed that the guests were choosing the places of honor at the table. He advised them not to do so in case a more distinguished guest had been invited, and the host would ask them to make room for him.

Rather, he said, they should take the lowest place so the host could tell them to take a higher position. Then, he said, they would enjoy the esteem of their companions at the table.

Jesus wasn’t just giving advice about table etiquette. He was making a point about humility: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11). That is a lesson for us.

Jesus was not the first to give this advice. The Book of Proverbs states: “Claim no honor in the king’s presence, nor occupy the place of great men; for it is better that you be told, ‘Come up closer!’ than that you be humbled before the prince” (Prv 25:6-7).

However, Jesus wasn’t finished. He then turned to his host and told him that, when planning a dinner, he shouldn’t invite friends, relatives and wealthy neighbors, but he should invite the poor, the crippled and the lame. Jesus said that he would be repaid at the time of the resurrection of the righteous.

Do any of us do that? Perhaps we could at least help provide a meal for them. †

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