Shamelessly Human

Shamelessly Human

Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year. Fr Didier Croonenberghs invites us to hear God’s call to take a higher place at his table.

In the middle of the nave of the church, two chairs were perfectly lined up, waiting for the future spouses. Suddenly, I noticed something utterly banal: two labels had been put on the spouses’ chairs saying simply, ‘reserved’! Had these labels not been there, I wondered whether anyone would have ever thought to sit on these two central chairs with their red cushions? Anyway, I will never know what the person who put these labels had really in mind.

But is this Sunday’s Gospel about a mere question of etiquette? Does it tell us simply not to sit down on other’s chairs? In fact, Luke’s Gospel invites us to reflect on a completely different and more profound reality.

When you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.

This gospel invites us not to find out the places on which not to sit down, but precisely the place on which to sit: our own. Indeed, to find one’s place in life is not to live by avoiding treading on others’ toes, as if living in a community, in a family or in a society was just a question of not disturbing other people. To find one’s place is first and foremost to know who we are, otherwise no true relation would ever be possible.

It is a question of humility, of humanity, and of truth. It is a question of humility since to accept one’s frailties — to start from where we are and not from where we would like to be — enables us to listen and answer to the call ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Only if we find where our true place is can we hear God’s small voice inviting us to go up and live our life more fully in the following of Christ, who humbled himself and was exalted.

Furthermore, to find one’s place is a question of truth. To put on a show in order either to boast oneself or not to disturb one’s neighbour with our own difficulties makes us unable to enter into a true relationship. Sometimes, we could fear being judged and told something like ‘Friend, go down lower!’ But this sort of judging is always not to know, to guess where people are, rather than know who they actually and truly are.

Humility is in that sense nothing less and nothing more than true humanity. Both words have indeed the same root. On this path of humility, Christ alone shows us the perfect way. Indeed, he — those! — who humble themselves will be exalted.

In a famous comic play, The Chairs, the playwright Eugene Ionesco depicts an elderly couple setting up chairs and greeting invisible guests who have come to hear the important message that the ruler of the world is supposed to give. The play has only two visible actors, living in their fantasies. No relationship is possible since they live in their dreams, moving chairs on the scene supposed to welcome famous and important guests, who never appear.

In this play, these two people forgot who they are. On the stage, the chairs of invisible guests pile up through the length of the play. The ruler of the world who appeared at the very end the play is deaf-mute and cannot relay his message. No-one is sitting on his own chair. No message and no relation are possible.

This absurd play may make us smile. It nonetheless conveys an absurd counterpart to the story of Luke’s Gospel. In the latter, there is no invisible guests, no empty chairs — without labels! — but a banquet in which Christ invites all of us, because he alone knows the depths of our hearts and who we truly are. Christ who humbled himself and is seated at the right hand of the Father knew humanity until the end. He knows us better than we know ourselves. So, in confidence, we can listen without shame to him who says to each one of us, ‘Friend, go up higher’.

A better future is always possible. There is a place waiting for us. Therefore, let us wake up and seek our place in God. In so doing, we will discover that he is the guest who wants to find a place in you.

Readings: Ecclesiasticus 3:19-21,30-31 | Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24 | Luke 14:1,7-14

fr Didier Croonenberghs is a priest and friar of the Dominican General Vicariate of Southern Belgium. He studied theology at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford University.