7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Anyone else think it’s weird that Jesus, the same guy who eats with prostitutes and tax collectors and whose disciples don’t wash their hands is suddenly teaching what amounts to a lesson in table manners?
This church had one of our first weddings yesterday. John and Maria Gathered with family and friends to exchange their vows of marriage. Then they threw a great wedding feast. So it’s ironic that today we hear Jesus tell us a parable about how to act at a wedding feast since clearly some of you could have used that lesson before last night. It’s pretty sound advice too. He teaches us that hey, if you’re invited to a wedding feast, don’t just go up and sit at the reserved head table because, if you do, the host might have to come and re-seat you where you belong so that then one of the A-listers can take their rightful place at the head table. And let’s face it, that’s pretty humiliating. So, take the bad seats Jesus says, the ones behind the pillar and next to the kitchen that way the host will come and say “what are you kidding? Come sit with the other special, important people up front where you deserve to be”
. Because as he says, those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
I started wondering this week: how far down the table would I voluntarily sit if I knew that the reward would be the head seat? Hoe many of us out of pride would choose the highest seat knowing you show up more than others, you have more education, more hippness or you just work harder than them, so you deserve it.
Or how many of us would choose the lowest seat not out of pride or scheming but out of feeling inferior to everyone else, feeling worthless and less-than compared to others which, lets face it, is kinda just the other form of narcissism. Or maybe you’re like me and would love nothing more than a seat right dab in the middle so that I can feel more humble than the entitled people at the head of the table and superior to pathetic rif-raf at the bottom of the table. I like my snottyness to be able to go both directions you know, if at all possible.
So is this reading from Luke’s Gospel a lesson in table manners ? …or is it the secret for how to secure a higher status than those around you through the use of false humility. At least those are the take away message if we choose to read the Bible like a how-to guide, or an answer book… or like it’s Joel Osteen’s how to have your best life now. But the Bible quickly defies our attempts to domesticate it into a divine reference manual. For instance, on the surface today’s reading might sound like Jesus is giving us a lesson in etiquette or social climbing. But maybe there’s more to it, because like British theologian N. T. Wright astutely observes, "Jesus didn't come to offer good advice”. And let’s face it: we can get that from Oprah.
What we may want from the Bible is advice and easy answers but what we get instead is truth. Truth about us and truth about God.
And that’s why this teaching from Jesus is a parable. It’s not a lesson in manners or getting ahead or how to improve your status. Besides, to read parables as instruction on how to behave is like using riddles to get directions to the airport. Parables were just Jesus’ way of stretching our minds around who we are and who God is. Because in the end I don’t think Jesus cares about manners or false humility. I think Jesus cares about what we base our worth and our identity on. And we are fools when we think that we can offer God anything that would ensure our place at the divine banquet, and this includes our modesty.
I think maybe the truth of this passage has to do with the truth about actual
as CS Lewis reminds us, “true
humility is not pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men
trying to believe they are fools.” Lewis suggests that God wishes us to be like
a skilled architect who designs the greatest cathedral in the world. Yet does
not glory in the greatness of the cathedral any more or any less than if it had
been designed at the hands of another.”
True humility then is not trying to pretend you’re not skilled or intelligent or a gifted musician. Humility is to see that all these things come from God and not from us. All of it: Mathematical genius and Money and the love of children and the ability to grill the perfect brat and great dance moves and peaches and that coppery light at dusk and weddings and new jobs and the fact that we get to live in Colorado. It’s all gift. We didn’t earn these things. They are from God. Humility is knowing that what we have is a gift not an entitlement, and we hold these gifts for the good of all of God’s beloved children. So your wealth may be your neighbor’s answer to prayers for daily bread and perhaps your wealth is the answer to this very community’s prayer for sustainability. Your intellect is a gift to a world reaching toward inspiration. Your home is a refuge to those who long to be loved and fed. The time you spend serving the poor is the answer to God’s longing for justice.
Humility then is treating all of it as though it is from God. Especially our identities. In the end your identity…your seat at the divine banquet is not forged from the steel of social climbing and clamoring for position but from the waters of your baptism. This is not a false humility you must manufacture to get ahead in life. It’s not an answer to finally getting what you think you deserve. But it is the truth. Because you are given what you need to be whole. It is a gift. It is from God. it is never, never at the expense of another. and it simply cannot be taken away.
The fact that there is a table at all… the fact that there is both this Communion table and the divine banquet points not to our entitlement at being honored but the gracious and socially transgressive nature of the kingdom of God in which finally there is no clamoring for position. We will be utterly disappointed if we come to this banquet in search of a strategy to gain power and privilege at the expense of our neighbors. For our host, the God who beckons us to the cross, is not actually invested in our upward mobility. Your status and identity is in no way contingent on where you are relation to others. No, this God, this Jesus the Christ, cares too deeply to be manipulated by human scheming. He has not come to promote you, but rather to resurrect you. And sometimes that resurrection takes the form of the Christ whispering in your ear “don’t listen to any other voices who try and tell you who you are. come. you belong at the head table” and when you follow him you realize that it’s the only table. And you are seated between Glenn Beck and Martin Luther King Jr. And maybe that’s just how terribly beautiful God’s kingdom is.