In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus, marking how the guests at a dinner choose out the seats of honour for themselves, gives them what appears a good piece of worldly prudential counsel. Rather than take the first place, and then having to live through the shame of being “downgraded” in front of everyone when a more honourable guest arrives, take the lowest place, then if the host does decide to “upgrade” you later you will be honoured by all! In saying this though what Jesus is really aiming at awakening is the humility that comes from living one’s life in God’s sight. The heart of the parable is the host, who alone knows the worth of each guest and can assign them their place: a figure of God who sees us from the inside, the other “guests” we share this world with only ever from without. The place we occupy in the world’s eyes, of praise or blame, may have little correspondence to where we really are, but in truth our sense of God’s presence is habitually so weak that the opinion of others often means more to us than the truth that God alone can see. We are more ashamed of being caught in a lie or an act of unkindness than in actually committing one, though the evil lies in the latter. We seek renown in the hope that it will assure us of our worth, and in seeking it end up pretending to be something we aren’t, so that what is being approved is not even really us. If our faith were stronger the knowledge of God’s love alone would suffice.
Jesus knows all this, and in his mercy he finds us where we are, not where we are supposed to be. This is why he appeals first to the sense of shame or honour we feel in the presence of others when we find ourselves exalted or humbled, before turning to what these moments are the figure of. Turning now to the host Jesus tells him to invite to his dinner all those incapable of repaying him in return: the poor, the maimed, the lame and blind: it is God himself who will repay at the Resurrection. This is the key: seek to please God, live as if you were always in his presence, for in truth you are, act in view of heaven rather than earth, heaven for all those you know. This will humble you but it will also exalt you. “Humility is truth” said St Teresa of Avila, and the truth is that the worth of each one of us in God’s eyes is immense and we have each received gifts which we must use. By all means then seek honour, seek glory, but seek it first where it is truly to be found: at his side, and as a gift from the Host whom none of us could ever begin to repay! We are the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind invited to his feast, as the parable that follows will show (cf. Lk 14:15-24) Seek the first place then: the place closest to him!