Look closely and you can see Presbytera Marinda and me in the photo. While visiting the Palace of Versailles near Paris last summer, an outside mirror in its gardens distorted our images along with those surrounding us. It caused us to appear “upside down.”
Sometimes in everyday life, we behave in ways that appear distorted or upside down from how our Lord envisions for us to conduct ourselves. For this week’s Sunday Lunch, I offer a parable that Jesus shared on a Sabbath. He was eating at the house of a leader of the Pharisees. Notice the “reversal” of seating arrangements Jesus teaches to those attending the banquet.
When He noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, He told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But 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. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11)
With these words, Jesus’ parable of good manners literally turned the viewpoint of the banquet guests “upside down” from what the world practiced. He challenged His followers to seek the virtue of humility and cast off the vice of self-exaltation. Further, James 4:6 reminds us that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Without a conscious commitment, we often miss life-saving opportunities in the ongoing banquet Christ offers us. On this Lord’s Day, we had a choice to leave “the place of honor” in our homes and seek out “the lowliness” of a communal setting perhaps less comfortable and requiring more effort and sacrifice to reach. We had a choice to let go of our “self-exalted” earthly priorities to combine our “modest” voices with others in the congregation; to sing praises and thanksgiving to Him.
As faithful servants we had a choice to hear and ponder God’s Word today. We had another choice to consider how to apply it to our lives. On hearing the words, “With fear of God, with faith, and with love,” we had a choice to come forward “to taste the Lord and see that He is good.” (Psalm 34:8) Did we become “happy by taking refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8) and in response feel inspired to share Him with all those He places in our midst?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, not just today, but every day, recognize that our Lord reaches out and whispers, “’Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.” (Luke 14:10) But we cannot be “promoted” or advanced by God without committing to a faithful relationship with Him. Unless we literally “turn our world upside down” by living for Him and not ourselves, by following His will and not our own, we live in vain.
When we are apart from the Source of Life, we lose ourselves from His unending life. In failing to connect our families with God’s light, the world’s darkness overtakes us; our choices imprison us with self-centered aims. Without God’s truth as our law, we compromise our faith and values to the world’s hegemony (political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others). Forsaking God’s love for the adoration of the world, we slowly abandon our journey towards His salvation and we forget His presence in our midst.
In our desperation, it becomes easy to seek out “another banquet” to replace the emptiness we have been feeling. Upon arrival, we are welcomed to seat ourselves wherever we wish; anything goes, and on the surface, no one seems to care. Then, we become keenly aware that we are lost. We feel alone with no one to help us.
In spite of our own searching and best judgment, we find it impossible to advance forward and find meaning in life. Where is God’s patient and forgiving mercy? Why do my choices detach the deep inner spirit within me from yearning to feel alive and live peaceably in my community, to be concerned about others, and have empathy for their needs?
At Versailles, I couldn’t wait to walk through its “Hall of Mirrors”. Having viewed pictures in advance, I anticipated seeing one of the most beautiful rooms on earth. I heard whispers from visitors that it was just ahead. I walked faster. I knew I was getting close when I heard all the “oohhs and aahhs”. And then I came “face-to-face” with its intricately carved golden entry that continued for the length of the hallway. The crystal chandeliers and superb paintings and sculptures were more commanding than I could have imagined. The sight was breathtakingly beautiful. Awesome! Countless mirrors reflected the life-sized images of all who passed in front of them. For me, the “Hall of Mirrors” represented the grandeur of Versailles as the royal palace Louis XIV undoubtedly desired when he began enlarging the earlier hunting lodge of Louis XIII in 1661.
And then, quite unexpectedly, I realized how overwhelmingly lost and insignificant the room made me feel. Yes, there were mirrors and reflections everywhere. They were so overwhelming that nothing could help me distinguish my tour group from anyone else. I was overcome with a feeling that I was in an ocean of “sameness”, even “emptiness”. In spite of its beauty, it would mean nothing once I left it. Despite its glory and reputation, I lost my identity among the anonymous faces staring and taking non-stop pictures.
Other than its momentary “wow factor”, my life would never take on a new meaning, or a renewed sense of purpose from having visited. With all the riches present at Versailles, why could I not experience fulfillment or be challenged by it? Simple… it was not really part of my life, nor anyone else’s for that matter. It was a reminder of a path taken that failed in 1789 with the start of the French Revolution. It is a metaphor for when we hit “rock bottom” and have left God standing at the door, waiting for us to respond to His words: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with Me.” (Rev. 3:20)
The opening parable from Luke 14 involved a banquet hall that would exceed the beauty and be far superior of what I saw at Versailles. As Jesus continued to teach His followers at the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, He revealed God’s compassion toward the poor… to those in urgent and critical need. Returning to Jesus’ parable, let us focus on what He instructed in verses 12-14:
[Jesus] said also to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Indeed, the kings of France would receive the most notable and wealthy of their kingdom at Versailles. However, our Lord instructed His followers in Luke 14 that by sharing hospitality with the needy, they would imitate God’s eternal love. In so doing, we join Him in welcoming the lowly into the banquet of His Kingdom.
When we feel cornered, trapped, or helpless, or perhaps see others in this state, maybe it’s a sign we are not only “poor”, but completely cut off from our spiritual life in Christ. Rather than remain isolated and miserable, why not open our hearts to receive God’s grace… and welcome its flow to us, and let it work within us, and share it between ourselves and His Body. By seeking to restore a vigilant and welcoming spirit with our Lord and Savior, we no longer live for ourselves. We live with God and within His Kingdom. We become the instruments of God’s saving grace to all we encounter.
“One of the dinner guests, on hearing this [parable], said to [Jesus], “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15) As we share our Sunday Lunch, I hope you will lift up this inspirational verse to your family and friends. Jesus calls us to partake of His eternal love; our mission is to join Him and enable everyone to share the bread of God’s Kingdom. Amen!
*[Photos taken by Fr. George Tsahakis at Palace of Versailles.]