In the scriptures for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 28, 2016) we hear the story from Luke about a wedding reception in which a guest chooses a place of high honor at the table. Jesus advises that we not seek the highest place, lest we be asked to clear the table for a more distinguished guest. (I saw this happen a few years back. A couple left in a huff because they did not get the table they thought they deserved. The situation was discreetly hushed up and the other guests barely noticed.)
I have been a loyal member of the institutional church, a long term civilian employee of the US Army and active in civic organizations. The temptation of lusting after the perquisites of position and symbols of prestige and power is familiar to me. I can name teachers, civic leaders and executives who have used their prestige to benefit the public more than themselves. On the other hand, we can all name celebrities who will inflict harm on the public to gain honor and recognition.
The wedding guest who was asked to move to a less prestigious seat risked more than just embarrassment. The greater risk came after he left. Then he would have been tempted to resentment and the desire for revenge.
Is it wrong to seek symbols of prestige and power? There are times when it is appropriate. St. Francis de Sales writes:
“…good men seeking to grow in grace can take their natural rank and position, so long as they are not engrossed by such things, and do not involve themselves in anxiety, contention or ill-will on their account. I am not speaking here of those whose position is public, or even of certain special private persons whose dignity may be important. In all such cases each man must move in his own sphere, with prudence and discretion, together with charity and courtesy.”