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Several ideas that St. Benedict emphasizes in his Rule for Monasteries includes hospitality and humility. Based on the passage from Matthew 25:35, St. Benedict comments about travelers seeking hospitality, “Let all guests that happen to come, be received as Christ, because He is going to say: “A Guest was I and ye received Me.” Three hundred years later a Benedictine Monk, Meinrad following St. Benedict’s Rule welcomed pilgrims to his hermitage that came to view the miracle-making statue of the Virgin Mary. Meinrad conscientiously opened his door to each pilgrim, sharing his meals with them. Two thieves, thinking that Meinrad had accumulated a treasure from the donations of pilgrims, took advantage of his hospitality and murdered St. Meinrad when he failed to produce the expected fortune. Unknown to these two, he had been giving all the donations to the poor. For his kindness to strangers, to the point of even death, St. Meinrad, is recognized as the Patron Saint of Hospitality. Hospitality has continued as a mainstay for the Benedictine order since St. Benedict wrote his rule many centuries ago.
Closely associated with hospitality is humility. St Benedict, in his rule, repeats the words from St. Luke, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted” (14:11). Only the humble person is able to share everything he or she has without the expectation of some form of recompense. St. Meinrad in giving away all he had received from donations rarely had enough to feed himself. He often went hungry in order to provide for those who appeared on his doorstep. A humble person never forgets that whatever he possesses came from God and in turn, gives whatever he has to another in greater need. St. Benedict remarks, “Not to love one’s own will or wish to fulfill one’s own desires, rather obeying the word of the Lord: ‘I came not to do My own will but the will of Him that sent Me’ "(John 6:38).
Jesus, in his ministry, frequently used hospitality and humility to teach his disciplines that all people are equal in the sight of God, and therefore, each person deserves respect as a child of God. Unfortunately, humans tend to deviate from this principle focusing more on desiring honor and avoiding shame for themselves instead of evaluating the needs of their neighbor. The attitude of, ‘Let others fend for themselves, as I am more worthy than them,’ however, leads the Christian heart precisely to dishonor and shame.
The parable that Jesus offers today provides an example of this hypocrisy. In the parable, guests attending a wedding feast rush to place themselves at the places of honor at the table. Jesus proposes that those who view themselves as more honorable not sit at the positions near the head of the table for they may be asked to move less valued if someone of more importance arrives. These self-inflated people would then experience shame as the host does not hold them in the same high regard.
Jesus suggests that those who expect deference because of their status sit at the place of less honor and allow the host to elevate them to higher positions. However, they also run the risk of being shamed if the host leaves them in these less honorable positions. If the host does not give them a place of recognition, they would be as red-faced as if the host had come up behind them as whispered in their ear, ‘I see you know your place.’ This dilemma of musical chairs leaves the proud in a quandary, ‘Where is the best place to sit to assure that I will be recognized since I am an important individual?’
Jesus did not introduce this parable to present the proper etiquette for parties. Instead, Jesus’ focus was to remind us that the heart of Christian life is not to place ourselves as the central figure in our life but instead to place God and neighbor in higher regard. Jesus placed this commandment as the priority in our relationships. This sin of self-centeredness, as with any sin, easily can describe as the specific effort to seek independence from God and to deny the graces he offers. For when we are directed solely to our desires, then we are no longer in communion with God. One is purposely deciding to acquire some self-aggrandized good that prevents bring one closer to the love of God and neighbor.
None of the desires or embarrassments in this world is forever. As with the seating arrangement at the wedding banquet, these cravings are transitory. What was important at one moment in time often soon loses its value. At times, it seems one would do almost anything to avoid being shamed in front of others. In truth, we experience many of these humiliating events throughout our lives and still survive these embarrassments. These experiences of yearnings and disgrace are just fancies of insecurity that we experience trying to identify our self-worth.
Jesus provides the example that we should all follow in understand our place at the wedding table. In his hospitality, Jesus did not segregate himself from sinners at meals. In his humility, Jesus avoided those who wanted to make him a king. In his Passion, he took on our shame, suffering for our sins rather than letting us experience eternal death.
Jesus, as the second person of God, humbled himself to born as a child becoming completely dependent on humans, the ones he created and the ones who would murder him. Not one act in his life was taken to place himself in the place of honor and very often he accepted the indignity of his detractors instead of lashing back. Jesus’ entire existence, as a human being, was directed in his love for us using the examples of hospitality and humility.
Deacon Dan Gilbert