Fr Bosco Peters presided and preached at the 11am mass. Our Gospel reading was taken from Luke 14: 1,7–14.
Read on for the sermon and a video of the service.
Let's imagine all of us here playing a game. There are four types of cards in this game: "Monarch," "Noble," "Servant," "Beggar." In this game, each person playing has one of these cards on our back. You don't know what your own card says, but you are to treat others in the way that you can see their card indicates. And as you begin to guess what your own card says — you are to behave as such a person would.
Within about five minutes, usually four groups of people, four clusters form — a group of Monarchs, another of Nobles, Servants, Beggars. The "Beggars" are probably the quickest to discover their status. Nobody wants to talk to them. People only really talk to people in your own group.
There might be a bit of communication between "Monarchs" and "Nobles". "Monarchs" and "Nobles" get "Servants" to bring them food; and to throw out the "Beggars."
This game is really: Welcome to life in Jesus' time — and often our own time, isn't it? And in Jesus' day, who you ate with reinforced the group you belonged to — your status.
Dinner parties were big deal in Jesus' culture. In today's story, by inviting Jesus to dinner, this leader of the Pharisees is treating Jesus as a social equal. But there isn't a friendly feeling is it? "They were watching Jesus closely".
In Jesus' culture, accepting a dinner invitation obligated the guest to return the favour. If Jim invites Bob to dinner, yes that is Jim recognising Bob as basically at equal status. Furthermore, the expectation is that Bob will invite Jim back to dinner at Bob's place.
Jesus, yet again, turns cultural expectations completely upside down: invite people who cannot invite you back — the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Not only is this leader of the Pharisees imagining going completely broke: he is wealthy with a home and the means to feed guests — and that will all be gone if he takes up this challenge and keeps inviting people who can never invite him back.
And there's more: Jesus completely breaks down groups: no more "Monarchs," "Nobles," "Servants," "Beggars."
Read 1 Corinthians Chapter 11 to see how difficult this was for the early followers of Jesus. These followers of Jesus struggled with these inclusive meals — especially in cities. And remember Corinth where this record of inclusive meals is being written about is a significant city. With the followers of Jesus, people of high rank were eating with persons of low rank — and the upper class followers of Jesus risked being ostracised by family and the important social networks.
The dinner that Jesus has been invited to in today's story would have had people reclining on couches — usually on three sides of a table.
You lie on your left side, at an angle, supporting yourself on your left elbow. Everyone was clear which the important places were — the middle couch was the most honourable. If you had no one reclining behind you, that was the summus — the best place — for the person of highest rank — on that couch.
On the left of this high—rank guest was the couch for those next in dignity. The couch on the right was held in lowest esteem. Everyone knew which place was for which status of person.
Then in today's story, Jesus gives some pretty standard how-to-get-ahead-in-life advice: don't embarrass yourself by having your host move you to a lower status place. Follow standard psychological insights in how to deal well with other people in affirming them more than humbling them.
But Jesus, you'll see in a moment, is doing something far deeper than offering a chapter on going to dinner for The Polite Lady's and Gentlemen's Guide to Proper Etiquette.
Jesus is making another point in today's story. Luke, you notice, calls it a parable. This isn't just an etiquette lesson. A parable connects a story with God.
Jesus realises that all of us rely on someone other to give us a sense of self worth. And you and I act so that we get that recognition: "I see what you do; I like what you do."
Did you notice that in the story Jesus develops away from who does the humbling and the exalting: "all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Jesus has moved the story into a parable.
I can depend completely on other people for who I present myself to be — constantly striving to please them; to fit into their image of me; to mirror them and their priorities.
Or I can do as Jesus does: draw my self-worth primarily from God, the source of the Universe, the reality of love. Seek first God and God's reign — and the rest will fall into place.
So today we leaders, the poor, pharisees, the crippled, the rich, the lame, young and old, the far-seeing and the blind gather around Jesus' table. We follow standard psychology: affirm more than humbling; give five positive comments before we make any negative criticism.
And most importantly we seek our affirmation, our sense of worth from God — the One who is dying for us to be free from the restricting expectations of others; the One who wants me to be my True Self — not just a reflection of other people; the One who gives himself fully to us, unconditionally into our empty hands.