Location. Location. Location. It’s the familiar cry of the realtor. Realtors understand how much a home or building’s location affects its marketability. Does the property have a waterfront view? Is it in a good school district? Is it in an area safe to walk at night? Whether it’s a place to live or to work or to recreate, realtors aren’t the only ones who carefully consider the issue of location. Location is more than a place—a spot on the map. Location expresses the kind of relationship we have with others. For example, if we are in the business of buying and selling, then we go to an office or shopping mall, where others have the same interest. On the other hand, if our desire is to relax and “get away from it all” then we search for a much different location, one in which our interaction with others is much different.
The question of location is a gospel question. In St. Luke’s example, it concerns locations of honor. The scene is a banquet, and the question revolves around the seating arrangements. Luke has Jesus offering his perspective on location. His advice is practical and to the point: Be careful. Don’t presume to know your proper seating. Better to be led to a seat closer to the host than to one more distant. Like good realtors, wedding guests naturally gravitate to the best seats in the best locations. Trouble is, their names may not be the ones printed on the tent cards.
Knowing where we sit—or where we stand— in relation to the church also carries its ambiguities and uncertainties. We’re not speaking here of our respective vocations. We’re not likely to become too confused over those of us who are lay and those who are consecrated religious. We can readily identify the married or unmarried, the ordained or non-ordained. We have a whole sacramental theology and a system of church law that make these differences pretty clear—at least on an official basis.
It’s only when we consider our standing before the Lord and within the church that the plot thickens. We are faced with questions. Where are we really situated in building up the kingdom of God on earth? How well are we serving as instruments of justice, peace, compassion and faithfulness to others? How well are we living out the teachings of Christ as handed to us by the church?
The tendency, it seems, is to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We act like the wedding guest who is sure he or she knows where they sit. Even allowing for differences within dogma, doctrine, and church discipline, all of us are prone to “canonize” some church teachings and “excommunicate” others. Our measure of orthodoxy, then, becomes those teachings with which we agree and assiduously follow. As for those others that are more problematic, well……let’s not talk about those. The danger here is clear. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that our individual standing within in the church is safe and secure (or that other peoples’ location is in jeopardy) because of the way we individually appropriate Christian faith. Instead of the entirety of church teaching being normative, it’s our own hand-selected teachings that become the norm for evaluating our communion with Christ in the church. If we are looking at faith through such clouded lenses, should we be surprised when the host of the banquet taps us on the shoulder asks us to move to move elsewhere?
The question of location is rooted in the question of relationship. This applies to people both within church and parish life as well as to people in our society in general. A lot has been made lately of the controversy surrounding a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero of September 11. Much of the controversy revolves around the question of location. Where should such a center be located? A couple blocks away? Several blocks? A few miles? Now, whether we agree or disagree with the proposed location in Manhattan is not the point. Rather, it is to say that the resolution of the question will say a lot about the state of the relationships of the people involved. Have forgiveness and healing brought people closer together, or are they still at a great distance? And then comes the question that trumps them all: Where is the Lord’s voice in the midst of this controversy?
In the celebration of the Eucharist, we have the assurance of God’s nearness to us. At Mass, our faith doesn’t make God present so much as it finds God present in scripture, in sacrament, and in one another. In the one Bread and one Cup of Christ, we have a foretaste of our eternal banquet feast of heaven. Yet we receive the Body and Blood of Christ neither as rewards for good behavior nor as passive acceptance of bad behavior. Rather, we receive the Lord’s presence only by virtue of God’s gracious mercy and our sincere efforts to locate God in the midst of our lives.
We may not know our seating location at the eternal banquet feast, but we can still take heart. The host continues to invite us, and the doors to the hall remain unlocked.
© Rev. Tom Mannebach