Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year
The title of the film, “Guess who’s coming to dinner tonight?” comes to mind for today’s gospel – the Pharisee got more than he bargained for when he invited Jesus to a meal. Places at banquets, in the world of the time, were assigned according to the rank and status of a person; indeed in the Greco-Roman world in which Luke was writing, people were not only given places according to rank but even given different kinds of food: “I happened to be dining with a man… whose elegant economy seemed to me a sort of stingy extravagance. The best dishes were set in front of himself and a select few, and the cheap scraps of food before the rest of the company” (Pliny the Younger, quoted in J. Murphy-O’Connor, St. Paul’s Corinth, 159).
The Pharisees, while not going to those lengths, were very particular about who ate with them – in case they had not fulfilled the purity laws. All groups are in danger of becoming elitist, confining those who eat with them to “people like us.” Jesus turns the tables on that kind of thinking by saying to his host: “… when you have a party invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.” These were exactly the people who were not allowed into group banquets at the time. For example the Essenes of Qumran in their Messianic Rule stipulated that no-one “who is smitten in his flesh, or paralysed in his feet or hands, or lame, or blind or deaf or dumb or smitten in his flesh with a visible blemish” could come to the messianic banquet. Jesus’ total reversal of such ideas is often proclaimed by Luke, for example in the Magnificat’s “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly.”
The inclusive nature of Jesus’ Kingdom Banquet is spelt out for us in the Eucharist where all should be welcome to the table as equals, no matter what their status. Coming from the Eucharist should challenge us to be more inclusive in our own daily practices in society.
Godfrey Nzamujo is a Dominican who has set up a self-help project in his native Benim called the Soghai Project. He works with all groups and all religions to endeavour to help those in need to better themselves through their own endeavours. He says: “The real enemies are ignorance and poverty, not people or religions.” (see L. Verboven, ed., The Dominican Way, 87-99).
Sr Celine Mangan O.P