Luke 14:1, 7-14
1On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
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.”
I think some of us may have a weird response when we read this gospel today. I read through Jesus’ words and come to the part where he says, “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” and I have this reaction. I pretty much always start bragging about how humble I am. I take quick stock of my life and think to myself, “Well, I’m pretty much the most humble guy I know. I mean, I know some humble people, but I’m pretty sure I’ve them beat. I mean, as far as humility goes, I’m probably the humblest person ever.” But then again, maybe this isn’t the time for humble brags but we almost can’t escape it.
We live in a culture that prides itself on staying humble, but also having a lot of stuff and status. We are supposed to work hard, be independent, get a lot of stuff to make sure everybody knows how hard we work, but then when people ask about the stuff we have or the status that we’ve achieved, we’re expected to talk down about it – “well, the 52-inch TV was just too big, so we went with the 48. Yeah, I may be a good volunteer, but have you seen Mrs. Smith down the road?” So, when Jesus talks about being humble and being exalted, we can easily convince ourselves that we, the Humblest Of The All, are going to be exalted.
But if we merely think about humility as a lack of bragging, we are missing a key piece of what Jesus is talking about today. Jesus isn’t instructing his dinner host (who, by the way, I’m sure is never inviting Jesus over for dinner again after insulting the guests and the host inviting the guests in the first place) to think less of himself, but to think of himself differently. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself differently.
What do I mean by that? Well, when we think about ourselves differently, we think about ourselves in light of the people and situations that are around us. We are constantly being shaped by the people and world around us. That’s true, but it’s also only part of the story. While we are being acted upon in the world, we also have the capacity for great action. And our ability to act isn’t constrained or confined by the social status of those around us. Take a look at Hebrews, where we find that we can be a force for God’s love in the world, we can entertain angels, and, I would argue, that we can be God’s angels without even realizing it. But it’s not just confined to people “like us” – those who think like us, look like us, and act like us. We can carry the Word of God to strangers, prisoners, to those being tortured, and to those in struggling marriages. That all sounds really nice, but it’s also the part that makes us uncomfortable, because, in those situations, with people who we quickly see as different or unworthy we can easily seat ourselves at the head of the table. We exalt ourselves above them. And it’s all justified. We can blame it on their past decisions, their addictions, their personality differences, and their cultural background.
As much as we may first do a little humble brag, we have to pause a moment and realize that Jesus is challenging us to the core of who we think we are. Jesus isn’t just telling this story to make people feel bad, Jesus isn’t attempting tear down anyone. Jesus is letting them (and us) know there’s another way to live, another way to be. Because all have been invited to Christ’s banquet, the feast of love and forgiveness. Whether you’ve been to church every Sunday or if you’re still not sure, come. Whether you’ve got a clean background or a criminal record, come. Whether you’ve stood up for others or silently let people be oppressed and marginalized, come. Whether you are exalting yourself or humbling yourself, come. There is a level playing field here. Jesus paid your admission when he died on the cross and Jesus opened the door when he rose from the dead. This is the reality that we declare when we gather around the bread and wine of Holy Communion. This is the reality we declare when proclaim that we are saved by grace and not by our own works. This is the reality we declare when begin each worship service with confession and forgiveness, knowing that whatever else we may feel outside these walls, in here we stand on level ground. We stand as sinners in need of grace.
And thanks be to God that Jesus doesn’t wait. Thanks be to God that Jesus in generous with this gift. Thanks be to God that we have a savior who forgives and frees and saves you. Jesus doesn’t wait for you to be the most humble person in the room before offering you a place at the table. Jesus doesn’t require that you sit in your assigned seats before serving the meal. Jesus has invited you. Jesus has invited us – the spiritually poor, crippled, lame, and blind – to a feast we could never repay.
This is comforting to us and a challenge to us. Christ’s gift of love is yours, but it’s also “theirs” (whoever “they” happen to be). This reality challenges the way we live and interact with others in the world, but it’s also the most beautiful truth I know of. Because just as much as we need grace, we can show grace. Because just as much as we are unworthy to be at the table, we are welcomed to it.
Ultimately, Jesus’ words promise us that the promises of God are not for people are deemed “worthy”, Jesus’ life shows us that God was willing to become humbled for us. Jesus life, death, and resurrection levels the playing field. There is no separation. So when we read this and I have my little humble brag moment, I am reminded that reminded that I need grace. We all need grace. But when we look to the cross, when we look to Jesus, we find that we have it. Welcome to the table. Have a seat. Amen.