I think that I have mentioned to you before when I was first ordained when invited to the wedding reception after the nuptial mass, I remember often being sat in between the bride and groom. I always felt more than a bit awkward about that. I never really knew why that was – was it a place of honour, was I the moist trusted person in the room to keep them apart? Was there a thought that even although they were married, sitting together might be too close. I always felt a bit uncomfortable, often I was younger than they were, knew nothing much and here I was at the centre if the table.
I recall mentioned to you that as time has passed, instead of finding myself at the centre if the table, I have gradually dropped down the table, often I am positioned at the very end, just getting into the table and no more. Well in recent times I have not even got to sit at the main table and end up sitting with the body of other guests.
I don’t tell you that in order to complain, it makes me smile. It’s a sign of dropping of the importance of the priest. Once you were at the centre if the table now days you are lucky to get into the table. If there was ever an example, a lesson in humility then maybe it’s there. You are meant not to be at the centre but at the end if the table and maybe not even at that table the priest’s place is not to take a place of honour but a place of humility.
That passage in the Gospel echoes that message when you come inti the room don’t take the place of honour, someone more important will come in and you will be sent down to a lower place.
It sounds like a lesson in table manners, a guide in what to do and what not to do, but turned another way it is really an important lesson in life. Don’t look to exalt yourself, find a humble way of doing things, do things humble, find a humble path in life. Don’t seek out the best seat, the place of honour, follow a humble way in life.
I notice Pope Francis is good at this. On the day he was elected Pope he insisted on returning to the hotel where he was staying before the conclave to pay his own bill. He leaves the Vatican often to go and change his glasses. When boarding planes or car he carries his own bag. Instead of travelling in a big car, he travels in a small car. Instead if getting in the back he gets in the front. Instead if wearing elaborate vestments he wears simple vestments Instead of staying the in the apostolic palace in apartments where Popes have always stayed, he lives in a residence with 2 rooms with visitors to the Vatican. He outs the sick and elderly and the poorest in the front of crowds and makes every attempt it greet them personally. Every few weeks he leaves the Vatican and visits people unexpectedly: prisoners, sick children, old people in homes, camps of travelling people. He hosts dinners for the poor and homeless if the city if Rome. He has put in showers and medical facilities in the buildings of the Vatican so that the poor if the city can come.
There is something in that, to be empty of pride. Not to wish to be the important person. Nit to be filled with self importance. To put others before you. To seek to serve rather than dominate.
But often there is another voice that we hear in our head. That desire to assert ourselves, to get our own way, to be in charge, to tell people, to drive the car, to lead. Not quite a humble voice but a self-assertive voice, the kind of way that is looking for the best seat, the most exalted seat, the place of honour.
How to silence that voice? How to train ourselves?
Often life has a way of training you. You can’t live that way. That is the path of self destruction and selfishness.
Life trains you that the other way is the best way to go.
God has got a way of showing us the right way to go in life. A way that saves us from ourselves.