Luke 14:1, 7-14
In today’s reading Jesus is at a banquet at a Pharisees’ house on the Sabbath where he was being watched very closely. The religious leaders were always trying to find something that he did wrong, something that they could charge him with. That appeared to be Jesus’ fate, no matter where he was, or what he was doing, someone was always waiting to see if he did something to go against the established customs of that time. He dealt with this attention by maintaining his relationship with the Lord God, and keeping his focus on establishing God’s kingdom in his time.
This is a somewhat humorous story, because not only do we have the religious leaders looking at Jesus and what he was going to do, we also have Jesus watching the guests coming in and where they were sitting. From this observation, we get another lesson from Jesus about what was really important in the world he was expressing versus what the religious leaders believed was important.
Banquets of this type were very lavish and long, some writers note that they could last up to a week. It was an honor to be invited to something like this, and everyone wanted to be seem by the important people. Also, these banquets were times for philosophers and teachers to impart their wisdom.
The other aspect about this was that if you were invited to one of these banquets at some point it was your duty, to invite your hosts to an opulent party that you would give in the future.
Thus, we have two expected behaviors concerning these parties, (# one) you were to come and talk about intelligent topics, and (# two) you were to invite the current host to a future party; however, it wasn’t the practice to invite the poor, or uneducated people to one of these fancy meals. The Pharisees were a group of people who separated themselves from the common people of society.
Jesus’ story had any number of key messages, but a couple of them are highlighted in verse eleven, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” As he spoke, Jesus indicated that it was better to initially take a lower seat, and then be asked to move up to a better seat, rather than be asked to move back to a lower seat after choosing a better one.
Jesus also taught that when you gave a banquet you should invite those who aren’t able to repay you, ----the poor, lame, and blind, ----rather than the wealthy, in doing that you will be blessed. Jesus wanted them to know that there is no pecking order in God’s kingdom; that by including all those we normally exclude, we both share and receive a foretaste of the feast to come, a feast at which, whether we play host or guest, we will be God’s guests. Jesus basically said that all are welcome to God’s table and in God’s kingdom.
Jesus is basically starting a social revolution: things that the religious leaders had practiced and carried on for many years were something that Jesus had no use for. Jesus calls for inclusion of those who cannot return the invitation. No wonder the Pharisees were always watching him closely----he was always going against the current culture.
Jesus was also trying to show the religious leaders and his followers that following him required a humble heart. In essence he was saying that our self-esteem and self-worth come from our relationship with God and not who we know, what we know, nor any so called success that we may obtain. Jesus knew that God has freely given us a dignity and worth that we could never secure for ourselves.
He knew that who we are comes to us as a gift from God, and not because of something we acquire, all we have to do is have an open-humble heart and spirit to receive it. This gift was shown fully in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension which allow us to be in this loving relationship with our Lord God, who loves us and wants to come to us on a daily basis.
Being humble is something that we all have a hard time grasping. People who are looked upon as successful are those who have obtained wealth, power, and esteem through hard work, drive, and good fortune. Being humble is too often looked upon as a weakness or being a door mat.
However, when I look at Jesus’ life and those that followed him, I don’t see people who are door mats, but rather people who were humble but at the same time, strong in their faith, and were able to move mountains because they knew their strength came from God and not themselves. The humble part was knowing that their self-esteem and self-worth came from their relationship with God and not from anything that they did. Thus, humility is a mark of the followers of Jesus.
Over the past few years I have learned more and more about the monastics and their practices and faith. Many were humble, yet were able to faithfully bring God’s kingdom into their time and space.
Roberta Bondi in her book "To Pray and to Love," wrote “for the monastic teachers being humble meant knowing that we are all beloved children of God, that the worth of each person comes not from us---but from God.” Knowing that we all are beloved children of God should impact how we live each day. It should encourage us to reach out to those around us, in this community, our region, and to the wider church and world.
Talking about being humble causes me to reflect on the time when I was attending Youngstown State University part-time while working full-time in a steel mill, I was on probation and prohibited twice from taking classes due to a low grade point average. I had to remain out for a quarter each time before returning to classes. I came dangerously close a third time, and would have been expelled but was saved by a grace-filled professor who gave a generous grade, allowing me to continue.
I learned from that experience that when I focused on what Vernon Jones wanted to do the results ended up poorly. Instead, my focus had to be on God’s kingdom and God’s will in my life. I had to see my studies as part of God’s overall will in my life, versus where I thought I needed to go. It was very humbling for me, for I had to take just one course over three straight quarters in order to get my GPA up. It took me a total of eight years but I did earn my Bachelor’s Degree. Sometimes being humbled can be very painful. Some of you may have had similar situations where being made humble wasn’t your idea, it just happened!
Being humble can also cause us to realize that it is very difficult to live a spiritually-centered life without spending time in prayer, Bible study, reflection, and listening to God’s word and Spirit. Jesus told his audience to humble themselves, not so much to know how to act at a banquet, but rather how to live in God’s kingdom here on earth. When God’s kingdom is our focus, we are no longer interested in exalting ourselves.
Jesus has invited us to a new vision and way of being, where there is no first or last, where we are all bound to one another in God’s abundant love and grace. Being humble isn’t something to be shunned, but embraced in the acknowledgment that our worth is a gift of God and not because we are educated, wealthy, powerful, or successful.
May the Holy Spirit guide us, and may God richly bless us as we walk this spiritual pilgrimage together as a Christian community secure in the knowledge that God is with us and will direct our actions when we humbly seek God’s kingdom each and every day of our lives. Amen!
Copyright © 2013 Vernon T. Jones Alpena, MI All rights reserved