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Make Room at the Table

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

Sept. 1, 2013
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Luke 14:1, 7-14

There are no head tables in a school cafeteria and generally none at a corporation dinner. Still, we learn very early that there are more desirable tables generally determined by who is sitting there. The lesson in today’s Gospel is not about the appropriate etiquette at a banquet nor is it about a person’s desire to sit at the head table. Instead it is about a syndrome that most of us know quite well. We call it “jockeying for position.” We see it in social circles and we see it in our work lives. The temptation is to impress those in power and those who can impact the future. The focus is on the individual’s own interests. Perhaps that means being part of the most popular group. At any rate, it is about our own definition of honor, status and position, how much we value it and how we go about achieving it.

I often think that Jesus’ initial counsel in this Gospel Reading—take the lowest place and the host will move you to a higher position—is “tongue in cheek” advice. There is little doubt that the point of this reading is reaching out to those who have less than we have.

A different translation of Sirach uses the word “gentle” rather than “humble.” “My son be gentle in carrying out your business,” it says. While I have never considered gentleness and humility as the same characteristic, I like the idea of humility arising from gentleness. It is, I think, a quality of gentleness that enables us to consider the feelings of those who are isolated at our social gatherings—those who aren’t part of the “in group.” It is gentleness that keeps us from diminishing the good qualities of others with the hope that it will make our talents seem greater. Perhaps humility arises from gentleness or is it the other way around. The interplay between these two characteristics can be seen in Jesus’ words: “Learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…” (Matthew 11:29)

Where we sit at a social gathering and who we invite to our gatherings are symbols of our values. Ultimately, the liturgy points to the heavenly banquet and our place at that table.

Jesus asks that our thoughts of the kingdom should guide us in every part of our lives. The search for status frequently gets in the way. How do we avoid it? We make friends with the poor—those that cannot repay us. We remember that poverty takes many forms. It walks the streets of our city, eats alone in a small apartment, is isolated in a lunchroom. It is alone and lonely.

Today, Jesus invites us to be where he is.

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