There is a term popular today that seems to me to fit with this message of Jesus. The term is “comfort zone” which refers to those situations in which the person feels comfortable, safe, free from threat and challenge. The comfort zone is, for the person involved, a thoroughly comfortable place. Life there is marked by ease and familiarity.
It’s natural to like one’s comfort zone, but most of us would admit that we should not remain there indefinitely. People do not become better or more mature or holier lingering in their comfort zone. That just doesn’t happen.
In the first part of this Gospel, Jesus cautions against sitting in the place of honor at a wedding banquet and advises taking the lowest place instead. But it is not simply a suggestion about etiquette. Something more is going on here. What Jesus advocates is not only for social occasions, but it’s meant to shape the entirety of our lives.
Choosing the seat of honor for ourselves is choosing the seat in our “comfort zone” – where we will be comfortable, safe, and free from the threat of interacting with strangers. Jesus cautions us against moving into a comfort zone all on our own as though we know what we’re doing, as though it’s something we need to do.
In the second part of the Gospel, he urges us to invite the crippled, lame, and blind when we give a luncheon or dinner, rather than friends, relatives, and rich people.
So there’s advice here for us whether we’re the guest or the ones hosting an event. Picture entering the banquet hall at our annual Gala. Do you gravitate toward a familiar face or approach a table of “new friends” you’ve just never met before. Do we sit in “us vs them” clumps?” Do we do what Jesus says – ensure that our guest list includes those who are different, people who may make us uncomfortable, but whose difference from us may bring us a blessing? This is what I think is so significant about our Thanksgiving Day dinner. We open our door, our hearts and our table expecting nothing in return. The blessing of being in a position to share is its own reward.
Jesus not only teaches us this lesson of stretching our comfort zone, he demonstrates it. His entire life, his public ministry, his passion and resurrection, is full of one episode after another of his expanding what could have become his comfort zone. Repeatedly, Jesus takes the low seat and invites unlikely types to be his guests.
Jesus left the comfort zone of his place by his Father to come to earth as a tiny, helpless infant. Finally, he took the worst seat of all––on the cross. He left the comfort zone of his earthly life, allowed himself to be placed in a narrow grave in order to experience ever-expanding resurrected life. Jesus left the comfort zone within his family and friends on earth to become ever-present to all of us – to each one – at our beck and call.
Every day we encounter situations that place us outside our comfort zone – that stretch us to new territory in welcoming the “stranger” – persons or experiences. Just be on guard against the inevitable danger that this place will soon become our new comfort zone.
I am reminded of the words of a hymn found in our Journey hymnals: “Now As We Gather” …. “Now as we gather, God’s chosen people … there are no strangers in this holy place.” When the stranger becomes friend, we must search out other strangers to befriend.
In this Gospel and in a hundred other ways, Jesus asks us that we do him the honor of keeping ourselves, our religion, our community from becoming trapped in some comfort zone. This is what it means to live the life of faith – a life on the ladder of humility as described in the Rule of Benedict … living in reverence and deference to others.