For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.
Sometimes the Gospel seems to speak to us so directly that it is shocking. Imagine my surprise when I began preparing my homily for the weekend of my eldest son’s wedding to discover that this is the Gospel - some direct advice about the seating arrangments at wedding feast.
And like so much of Jesus’ teaching this appears immediately to present sound and sensible advice with unrealistic or impossible directions.
On the one hand it is certainly sound advice not to assume that at any party to which we are invited that we will be the guest of honour. Take the lowest place, and we may be complimented - assume to much, and we could be greatly embarrassed. This much is wise, and is common sense.
But the next bit is not so easy.
“When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, ... No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”
There are very few wedding breakfasts, if any, which follow this particular advice. Here is a sure way to upset your relatives, offend your neighbours, lose your friends and worst of all outrage your in-laws. Goodness gracious, aren’t these occasions stressful enough without such a reckless policy?
But look again. As so often in Jesus teaching an extreme example makes a telling point. Don’t invite those close to you, he says, in case they repay you - invite instead those who cannot repay.
Jesus is challenging us to consider not our giving, but our motives for giving. Do we give to others in order to get something back, a gift, a favour, a friendship - or do we give to help those who cannot give? Is our generosity self-serving, or self-giving?
Do we think about what we will get from our act of giving, or consider what the benefit will be to the one who receives our gift?