August 21, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 14:7-11.
He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke is the only gospel writer to include this parable perhaps because he seems to have had a particular interest in Jesus’ teachings on the rich and poor. However, this is about more than just the rich and poor.
This reminds me of Jesus’ statement that no one knows the mind of God. Often we presume to know. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that the Greek word for “those invited” also means “those who consider themselves elected.” Jesus is speaking here to those who consider themselves exalted, elevated, above others. It may be money, authority, beauty, intelligence or any number of things that cause us to promote ourselves above others. It’s a mistake; no one is any better than anyone else. Jesus told the scribes, Pharisees, and elders over and over that they were no better than the sinners they looked down upon, separated themselves from. You can think of us all as sinners or you can think of us all as children of God. Either way there is no rank, no privilege. Jesus had to rebuke his disciples several times when they revealed this attitude of self-promotion, self-interest at the expense of others.
Jesus has no patience for this kind of arrogance. As always, he turns the conventional, the usual, way of thinking and behaving upside down. When I seek honor or esteem, placing myself before others, I create a boundary, a wall, between us.. I am unable to see the other for who they are because my concern is for my own interest. I am so busy preening and striving that I can’t see anyone else through God’s eyes. I can’t put my own interests aside long enough to care for others, to give of myself, to embrace the leper. I am denying the kingdom here and now. If I persist in this way, I may be denied the kingdom of heaven. That’s the point that Jesus is making.
I am utterly dependent on God. I am not self-sufficient even though I may strive to be. All I have and all I am able to do is from God. That alone should make me humble. I have to let go of my self-centeredness, my pride, my superiority. Sanford in The Kingdom Within offers this view about this parable, “This is not a call to extinguish, nullify, or devalue the ego….There can be do wholeness, no strength, no capacity to be used by God without a strong ego. It is only an ego made strong by inner confrontation that is capable of performing the act of self-sacrifice….A person with a strong ego will not be proud but humble, for self-pride can be dispensed with by a strong person….The giving up of the ego does not come readily to human beings, whose natural, unconscious inclination is to seek power for themselves and to try to exploit life for their own purposes. The very idea of turning the ego over to a higher power from within produces anxiety because it looks as though this means that the ego will be extinguished. In fact, the old ego does die in order that a new ego may be born, and this is the heart of the Christian mystery of transformation.”
Jesus tells me over and over including through this parable that I must transform myself. I am called to allow God to use me as His instrument in building the kingdom of God. That can be done only through humility, by letting go of my old ego that seeks only power at the expense of others. It’s a slow process for me, this transformation, and one that I balk at and resist often. I have to keep at it, though, if I hope to have a place at the banquet, to be exalted by God in His eternal kingdom.
P.S. I will be out of town for a few days.