When we attend a banquet, especially where there is open seating, we all have our preferences on where we would like to sit. Some of us like to sit close to the head table to be near the action, while others prefer to be in the back, closer to the exit, where a quick escape can be made. Some will position themselves near to the kitchen or the buffet table so they can get served first, and others like to be closer to the bar.

Jesus was certainly familiar with wedding feasts and banquets, so it should be no surprise that he uses this experience in a parable to highlight a significant teaching. His use of the image of a wedding banquet reflects also the prophetic imagery of heaven found often through the Old Testament and the Jewish imagination.

This parable is that of a scrum of people at a wedding rushing to their preferences. At our core, we tend to behave as a swarm – we herd together and jockey for position so that we can get the best view or the most advantageous perspective.

Part of this comes from our deep desire to be associated with people who are, even if for only a moment, the focus of attention. We connect our own importance by our connection with others. Go to any banquet or gathering today where people are free to associate with whom they choose, and watch the various games that ensue. When there is assigned seating, especially at family affairs like a wedding, there are those who will carefully take note of where others are sitting in relation to themselves and, more importantly, to the head table. It is almost instinctive to see where we stand in relationship to others.

We like to be associated with importance. It is this tendency to seek notoriety for ourselves for the sake of fame or notoriety that Jesus warns us against.

Of particular focus is the experience of presumed preference. We jockey for position or comment on the preference shown to others because we believe that we deserve it. Much of the fallout we are experiencing as a society from “esteem education” programs grows out of the notion that everyone deserves an award and that all contributions are equal.

While the “punchline” of the Gospel, focuses our attention on humility, there are more underlying themes that run through the parable.

We are confronted with the shallowness of seeking fame by association. When we advance ourselves, we do so at the expense of others. When we turn the focus on our own achievements, there are others who are praiseworthy that are being overlooked.

Often we are confronted with the ugliness that comes from trying to achieve, maintain and manipulate power. Unfortunately, this level of corruption is not limited to the political realm. We see it in the workplace, the family, schools and in the Church. We are caught between the desire to make a difference on the one hand, and the desire to be recognized on the other.

Jesus calls his disciples to a different standard. We are to live in humble service of the Gospel.

When you read the lives of the saints, you note that so many of them lived obscure and short lives in out of the way places, usually unknown by any of the people in a neighboring village.

Fame and acclamation of the world matters little. One need not jockey for position to enter the kingdom of God. As we keep our lives focused on Jesus and service to the Gospel, we have all the exaltation that we will ever need.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.