Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
As usual, Jesus interrupts our thinking with the gospel lesson this morning. It is the Sabbath day and he is at the home of one of the Pharisees. A man is sick. Healing is available – right then and there. Should he be healed in this moment of opportunity, be forced to wait another day or two, or wait as long as the law allows?
Well, needless to say, Jesus was the ultimate rule-breaker in light of one other basic rule: the rule of shared humanity and love. We must constantly be asking ourselves, “What does love look like in this moment with this circumstance? What is the loving thing to do, say, for the greater good right here, right now? How do I make something whole, set somebody free?”
The man is broken. Help is available. How is that help made available? How does it become the priority over every other decision? For the lame and wounded, today is always the right day. Here and now is always the right time.
After healing the poor man, Jesus looks around at the crowd and how people are choosing the best seats, the places of honor. He looks around and sees how human they are – how human we all are.
I mean, let’s face it, left to open seating, my guess is that most of us would err for the better seat. The seat closer to the most elite, who represent the greatest power. We tend to like to sit in “high” places, to be associated with sources of power.
That’s how it’s done in this world, in this city. It’s easy to find ourselves jockeying for places and spaces because we know it matters – location, location, location. When we walk into a board room or certain meetings, it’s almost instinctive to scout out the “best” seat. The closer we are to power or sources of power, the more powerful it makes us or makes us feel, is that right?
Imagine the most honorable or famous person you can think of surprising us and appearing in our midst this morning. We live in New York City and know that anything is possible. It would be mighty difficult to remain focused on listening to what I have to say. My guess is that it would be near impossible to not pull out the cell phone for a quick selfie or rush over during the passing of the peace for a handshake. We would be all over Facebook, telling our friends, framing a photo, putting in on the living room shelf! Just saying…
To be honest, I think Jesus would likely be alright with a little of it, understanding the importance of seizing the moment. However, he offers another perspective, especially if such actions cause us to overlook other people who are equally important in his kingdom.
When you are invited to a wedding banquet, Jesus says, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host. When you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place so that you can be moved up higher. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
He goes on further to encourage the listeners to rewrite their own guest list. When you have a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends, brothers, relatives or rich neighbors so they may repay you by inviting you in return. When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay, and you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
To those first-century hearers living in an honor-shame culture intensely sensitive to issues of status and recognition, it would have seemed rather remarkable and ultimately offensive. It would have been extremely humiliating to have been asked to step down from a high place. It would have been the worst.
We also tend to invite those who can invite us back, don’t we? Those with whom or for whom we can get something in return. I tell you, I have met people along the way who seemingly would not even bother to say good morning unless there was some gain for themselves. Jesus says there will be enough; you’ll get yours in time. Take the risk. Invite the outcast, the poor, the sick, the socially undesirable and more.
This lesson on humility can be tricky in a culture that suggests humility is a sign of weakness and the humble are often trampled upon or rendered invisible altogether. We often don’t know the balance between humility and assertion or letting our voices be heard. But humility is also a gift and a necessary component of the Christian life.
How do we place value on people because of deeply embedded norms? The roots of these mindsets are deep, and we have to work really, really hard – all of us. Really hard because our preconceived notions of value run deep. We make value assessments all the time based on our preconceived notions.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus pushes us, and he pushes us hard. He is relentless, never satisfied with his followers remaining as they are – regardless of where that is.
Jesus was forever looking for the lost ones, the left out and unseen. He was looking for the least likely to be considered. Even the most horrible among us. What about them he asks? Why is there no room for them? How do we slow down long enough, train our eyes well enough, step out of selves graciously enough to see them?
Jesus is the consummate host. And at his party, no one is left out for any reason. Scoot over, he seems to say. Make room.
We might want to ask ourselves who we are sitting at the table with these days. And who we are inviting in. Are we more likely to fellowship with our kind – whoever that is? Those who already have plenty, those already esteemed and validated or those who are not? What would it look like to kick off this new season determined to meet one new person a week? To make an effort to extend a hand, or kindness to someone we might not have otherwise?
This is what the communion table is all about. It’s about everyone having equal status in the sight of God and as brother, sister.
May we hear these words of Jesus as good news. Words that challenge but also confront so that we might grow and come more fully into the Christ-like person we have been called to be.