It was many years ago, that a young man went to college for the first time–me. There were many things I remember about it: the confusion of making sure that we had everything, my mom and sister crying because I was the first one going off to college, the excitement of finally making it to a new world. It was a time of hope and a time of fear. When I got settled in, there were a lot of unknowns: where I was supposed to go next, where I was going to eat and how good the food was going to be, whether I was going to get along with my roommate, who I was going to hang out with. I went to college alone; there was only one person on campus that I’d met before out of a few hundred. It was like Harry Potter going off to Hogwarts, and I didn’t know where the magic was going to be either.
This is a great time of possibility, of getting acquainted, of finding oneself. In a way it’s about finding that you really can fly on your own. It’s also a time of anxiety, of finding which group you’re going to hand out with. There’s no Sorting Hat to tell you which group that you’re going to be part of, to tell you which place you have at the banquet.
Banquets have always been important. In Jesus’ time, they were the major entertainment and social events of the season. This was a culture where people didn’t have much, so a time of new beginnings was a time to be celebrated and a time to see and be seen. Getting the place of honor at the table was just as important as having a good place on the Red Carpet, and folks might be a bit aggressive in staking out their territory.
Jesus comes and turns everything upside down, as usual. In some ways, his advice is very practical: it’s embarrassing to have the host tell you to move over for someone else, and to have the host come and pull you forward means a little more spotlight than if you went straight to your place. It’s a way to save face, even if it’s hard to be humble. Jesus knows what parties are like, and what’s going on, so what he has to say at first is on target. Be there, but don’t get too pushy.
What comes next throws everything for a loop. A lot of us know what it’s like to host a party and know that if somebody invites you over then it’s only natural to return the favor. It’s a neighborly thing to do; it’s good manners. This is a small village and almost everybody gets married sooner or later, so before long there will be a guest at the banquet Jesus is at who’s going to get married and be the host for the next party with pretty much the same people in attendance.
But Jesus, as usual, throws them a curve. Inviting people who can’t invite you back doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. These would be people that you have no contact with otherwise. What does it mean?
You’ve probably heard the old saying: “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.” In college there’s a lot of emphasis placed on performance: how well you do in classes, how well you develop the skills for your chosen profession, what kind of grades and awards you get and ultimately, what kind of recommendations you get for your first job. That’s all OK, that’s a big part of why we’re here and that hasn’t changed since I was in college and graduate school. But there’s more to life than what goes on in the classroom or the laboratory or athletic field. In this line of study, it’s not what you can accomplish or what you can earn but how you can share and what you can give without asking what you get in return.
As followers of Christ, we are called to treat each other as Jesus taught: we’re called to be people of prayer, to share the Good News, and to share ourselves as he did. Jesus comes to us today in this sacrament to strengthen us for extracurricular activity and to show us how it’s done. In the great school of the liturgy, we learn what it is to take our place at the banquet, what it is to bring people to higher places at the table, and to share unselfishly the great gifts God has given us all.