Over the centuries a great number of famous little booklets were composed with the intent to teach how to make a good impression in society. Balthasar Gracian's Manual of Worldly Prudence is a classical example of this type of literature. One would imagine that it is obligatory reading for candidates of a diplomatic career. Some might perhaps get the impression as if today's gospel could fall into this category. In this way, Jesus attended a feast, observed, perhaps with amusement, how foolishly some guests behaved, and wished to advise them how to achieve their aims more intelligently. If you wish to be honoured at a dinner table, be aware that claiming honour for yourself may badly backfire. Success will be safer and greater by making sure that honour be given to you by others. Start low in order to be lifted up before everybody's eyes. Beyond doubt, that is sound advice, or rather a clever hint.
But it is surely not the meaning of the text. There we read: He told a parable to those who had been invited. We are told a parable!Many of you may remember the fascinating picture books that a few years ago flooded the market. When looking at the page, you see nothing but a colourful pattern, but if you adjusted your eyes so as to look not at the page but through it - as in a shop you see the goods under the glass of the counter -, you suddenly and very clearly discover unexpected objects. Parables are like that. When we stare at them they merely show a colourful surface, when we look through them they reveal quite a different reality.
Jesus usually begins with The Kingdom of God is like ... this or that. Or he says With what shall I compare the Kingdom of God, today let us say, with a feast. His concern is to make us grasp the Kingdom and how to behave as members of the Kingdom of God. We arrive at the feast not as gate-crashers who push themselves into the hall, but as invited guests who come because the host wanted them to be present, in order to share the feast with them. They come without any claim, without any hidden sentiment that it would have been scandalous had they not been called. They come not to occupy their due respect, but they come with gratitude and even a sense of surprise to have been considered. To be there is all their joy. Unimaginable that they would muster the gathering with a critical eye and start ranking the other guests according to their worth. The host has honoured them by his invitation, how wonderful. Now they have arrived and may attend. What amazing fortune! That is all. They are neither fishing for esteem nor do they fear that their attendance may burden them with future obligations. The common rules of the social game, of "give and take", do not apply. All comparisons cease. The desire to outdo one another has vanished. The race to appear better than others has stopped. The Kingdom of God consists in joy and peace, untarnished by the social competition for the better place under the sun. The host dispenses honour and graciousness, he gives, all receive, much more than the invitation might ever have promised. All who are there are exalted, - and those who insist on being exalted are not there. Life in the Kingdom comes as a gift from the Father, a pure delight, undeserved. One can only respond with endless gratitude.
How different is this image of the Kingdom from what Jesus observes at the feast to which he was invited by one of the leading Pharisees.. He noticed what was going on before his eyes, and through these events he saw the reality of his Father's Kingdom, to which he invites everyone.
We now have to grasp what this vision of the Kingdom teaches us here and now. When we pray Thy Kingdom come, to what sort of life do we look forward? Can we pray these words and remain tooth and claw engaged in the struggle to remain first, to overtake others, to push them down in order to get higher up? Can we pray Thy Kingdom come and continue to compare people, ourselves with the others, to rank them neatly, usually with ourselves in top position? And if I really want to pray Thy Kingdom come with full honesty and sincerity, how will this influence my day, my encounter with those I happen to meet, be they acquaintances or strangers? Plenty of food for thought. Amen.
Fr. Dietmar Lenfers MAfr