Emptiness

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor …. But .. take the lowest place. ” (Luke 14.7-9)

An old man and a child

There once was an old man who lived a very lonely life. His worked as a metal collector; he would search garbage can after garbage can looking for scraps of metal which he could sell. He lived a sad life for his face was severely scarred from a fire which killed his family. No one would look at him because he was so grotesquely scarred and because of this he kept very quiet and avoided people when he could. His main goal in life was to save enough money to fix his face so he could live a normal life.

Now there was an orphan who lived in the streets every day. His parents left him when he was only nine and because of malnutrition the boy lost his sight. Every day the boy begged for food but the people beat him and he couldn’t even run away because he was blind. The old man saw the broken hearted boy and felt sympathy for him and took him home. There he fed him, clothed him, and treated him like his own beloved son. The boy was joyful and was so grateful to this person who treated him like a loving father. Years passed and one day he said, ” I wish my eyes become better so I could help you work. You must be so beautiful and wonderful because you took care of someone like me. Maybe one day I could see your wonderful face.” The old man became silent being too moved to say anything.

The next day he went to the hospital with the boy and asked the doctor privately how much it would cost for the surgery to heal his face. The doctor told him around a thousand dollars. He asked again how much it would be to heal the young boy’s sight. The doctor said fifteen hundred dollars will do. He had saved up for ten years and had a little more than fifteen hundred. He went up to the young boy and said, “After you receive your sight I can’t be with you, yet I shall always think of you. I want you to be happy and live a good life.” After these words he paid the doctor and the tired man left knowing he could never truly reveal himself to the one he loved so dearly.

After the surgery the boy could see again. He was filled with joy and wondered why he couldn’t see the one he loved so dearly. He left and started looking for a job and soon found one at a restaurant. He became a waiter there and worked full time earning a good amount. One day, the old man came looking for metals to collect. He started searching around the garbage can of that particular restaurant when the manager came to tell him to leave because he was scaring the customers. The boy soon came to his side threatening the old man to leave also. The metal collector obviously recognized the boy and smiled a warm smile at the boy and left not wanting the boy to see him cry his happy tears.

Later at the restaurant the manager said to the boy, “what an ugly man”. The boy’s reply was, “I know, I hope I never see him again.”

Deep sea diver

You are right. This is not right! The old man should not have to suffer like this. What is provocative about this story is the utter love of this man and the crude ingratitude, albeit unknowing, of this boy. This is also the story of how Jesus loves us. He loves us without expecting anything back. He loves us. Period. He does good to us without counting on anything back. His love is divine. He send the rain on those who are good and those who are bad. He does not make distinctions. He is ever faithful and is an all loving God.

This is also the real content of the parable of today. It is a parable – a story with a message. It was a Saturday and Jesus has been invited to dinner by one of the leaders among the Pharisees. Being such an acute observer of human behavior, he notices two things – one the motions of the guests who were invited and second the list of the people who were invited at this dinner.

The guests arrive and immediately help himself to the seat of greatest honor. They want to be seen, commended, praised. What’s the problem? Jesus digs deep. He is a deep sea diver! Why are we so obsessed with self-importance, what others think of us, with making sure that we are honored? Why are we so touchy?

Jesus knows that there is a basic suffering in us. There is a jumbo emptiness, a void within us which has been created because we were never loved for what we were but always for what we gave. No one ever loved us gratis, freely. Very early in life we learnt that people love you only if you abide by their standards. If you were good, if you behaved, if you did what daddy and mummy told you to do… then everyone loved you. We are loved only as long as and if we give something back. This has created in us a whole operating system which is the root of a lot of suffering : we try to please, we try to abide by what others want of us so that we can obtain their love. We are ready to sacrifice ourselves to others but if then the other part does not acknowledge it… we suffer immensely. The moment we feel slighted, we feel terrible.

Manipulation

This is why Jesus turns his attention to the host and tells him this strange remark : “Whenever you give a dinner or a banquet do not invite your friends or your brothers, or your relatives or your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and it be a repayment for you. But when you give a feast invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For it will be repaid to you in the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14).

Is Jesus telling us to invite the homeless to our parties? Or is Jesus Christ , against meals and gatherings of friends and families. No, he is simply helping us to know ourselves better. Because if we realize our sickness, we can approach the doctor more willingly. He is saying that because of this basic void which is inside because no one ever loved us for what we are, many of our relationships are simply business transactions : I give you this, you give me that. I invite you, you invite me. I give you my companionship you give me your fidelity. I give you my sacrifices, you give me your dedication. Relate to the other, give of yourself, only if you’re dead sure that you’ll get something back! “Hey, there’s a fellow that’ll come in handy one day. I better latch onto him.” This obviously is not love. It is manipulation. A subtle and relentless inclination to use everything and everyone in OUR favor, always acting for payoff. What am I going to get from all this? What are the benefits for me ??

One cold winter’s day a crowd of people stood in front of a pet shop window and watched a litter of puppies snuggling up to each other. One woman laughed and said, “What a delightful picture of brotherhood! Look at how those puppies are trying to keep each other warm!” A man next to her replied, “No, madam, they’re not keeping each other warm–they are trying to keep themselves warm.”

Jesus’ words are radical because our sin is radical. He waves a red flag because this is the root of most of our sufferings. Since we give so much we expect so much and if the other can’t or does not give it, we suffer, we complain, we divorce…

Jesus is proposing a healing. He can make us like that old man in the story. He can make us like Himself. Jesus entered into a life-changing relationship with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, knowing full well that this will cost him his reputation. He performed many miracles knowing that they could never truly repay him for his deeds. He died on a cross knowing that many of us will be even unconcerned to his sufferings.

Do you want to be like Him? Really?!


 

(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.