Last Friday’s Gospel told the parable of The Ten Virgins and Sunday’s the parable of The Banquet Attendees. While both parables are common in Jesus’ teachings, understanding them is not often as simple as their obvious stories.
The parable of the virgins with their lamps awaiting the bridegroom (Matt 25:1-13) often has the reader declaring “unfair!” For a God who teaches us to love one another and multiplies bread and fish to feed thousands, why couldn’t the women have shared a little oil with those who failed to bring extra for their lamps? It feels like a curveball is being thrown at us with their refusal and their direction to the others to buy it from the merchants in a time when there wasn’t a 24-hour convenience store. But the oil is not just fuel for lamps, it is a correlation between the ladies and the relationship they have with the Bridegroom, Jesus. For each time a lady said yes to whatever Jesus asked of her — the good deeds, the forgiveness of others, the times of sacrifice — they became the fuel for the lamp she uses waiting for Jesus to come. She can’t give it away since it is her devotion to God that provides it. Yet even when one is familiar with the general meaning of the parable, there is always more to investigate each time it is read.
The story of the attendees who jostled each other to get the best seat at the banquet (Lk 14:1, 7-14) doesn’t seem like much of a parable. Its literal meaning is easily understandable… maybe even too easy? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of parable is “a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle.” The roots of the word reach back to the Greek translation that has “comparison” as a stem. So what is this parable comparing itself to? We can get lost in the example of humility the story conveys, that it’s hard to see any other narrative. Yet the key to this parable is in plain sight: a wedding banquet.
Just as in the parable of the ten virgins deals with a bridegroom, the one about the attendees at a banquet is also about a wedding. And this isn’t just anyone’s wedding, it is the marriage of heaven and earth; with Jesus as the bridegroom and the Church as the bride. The comparison that Jesus is making is that in the spiritual life prestige is worthless and humility shines. All the honor we gain, all the recognition that we so diligently work for during our life on earth, does not bring us closer to God but rather it pushes us further away. God will be asking us to take a lower seat, while He invites those who have worked humbly on earth to be closer to Him.
I can understand the parable of those jostling for a better seat, but being an introvert usually has me seeking a table in the back so that I can observe all that is going on at a function. In social situations it can look like I am a humble person, but humility is not just in the most obvious search for honor. Humility includes not comparing oneself to a person or making judgements about another. Humility is also about doing the right thing because it is the right thing, not because you will be lauded for it. Humility is about sharing the blessings you have received with others because you know God has bestowed them on you; so that you can be His eyes, His ears, His hands, and His smile when you share His love with others.
Jesus and Mary are two excellent role models for humility. Humility, like faith, is not a once and done thing; it is the fruit of seeking a relationship with God. Let us always reach out for their assistance as we journey onwards towards the heavenly banquet God has prepared for us.