15th Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 14:1, 7-14

In last week’s Gospel lesson there was a leader of the synagogue who was having a meltdown because Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath. This week Jesus is having dinner at the house of a Pharisee and to quote Luke “they were watching him closely.”

As it turns out, he was watching them too. What he noticed was how the guests chose the places of honor at the table for themselves. This in turn prompted him to tell a parable that sounds very much like advice from a Middle Eastern Miss Manners—

When you’re invited to a banquet, don’t sit in the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished comes along and you are asked to move. Instead, go and sit in the lowest place and wait for someone to tell you to move up higher. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

At first this might come across as advice on etiquette when invited to someone’s house for dinner.  Or it could also be taken as a prescriptive for not embarrassing yourself in public. Or maybe it was a fancy way of admonishing people to be humble. But I think his next words point to something more pressing.

After telling the parable, Jesus then addresses his host, the Pharisee. Jesus says to him
“When you invite people over for lunch or dinner, don’t invite your family, friends, and the elite because they can reciprocate. Rather invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and blind who cannot repay you, for then you will be blessed at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Now neither of these addresses could be counted as polite conversation and it would be interesting to know if he actually got to stay to eat after such pronouncements. But since our Lord is the embodiment of God’s mercy, grace, and love, and not one who delights in rudeness and insults, let’s see if we can suss out what he was getting at.

I think there are a couple of things going on here. Jesus cited the behavior of his fellow guests and the motives of his host. But behavior and motives are merely reflections of internal thoughts and attitudes. Maybe Jesus was really exposing the way we can sometimes use people and keep score relationally. I mean who do we typically invite for dinner? The answer is, those who actually benefit us in some way. Our family who love us, our friends who respect us, the elite make us feel good about ourselves.

Now being loved and respected and feeling good about ourselves, are not bad things. Neither are family and friends unimportant, but if we’re honest, we do treat people differently depending on what we perceive they can give us, be it a good feeling, or an advantage, or even their hearts. In that sense, we use (small “u”) each other all the time. Of course, then there are the times when we use each other with a capital “u,” and that’s something we quickly identify as wrong.

And what about this business of keeping score relationally? Jesus uses his circumstances as an example—the host has invited those who will be able to repay him. Except of course for Jesus who has no home of his own and is not known for his dinner parties. We might even think that the host is really not so self-serving because after all he did invite Jesus; but Luke seems to intimate that he was invited because they wanted to keep an eye on him.

Bottom-line, what Jesus was addressing was the way they saw each other and their motives for acts of kindness and generosity. People are not commodities that are there to give us what we want, and doing unto others is not about getting them to do the same unto us.

So why does this even matter? Because there will be an accounting at the “resurrection of the righteous,” a.k.a, Utlimate Reality, a.k.a. The Kingdom of God.

God made humans in his/her image and as such we are endowed with certain characteristics. We find hints of it in our Baptismal Covenant—every person is worthy of respect and dignity, and in every person we should seek to serve and love the Christ within them. Every person. Within everyone there is a spark of the divine.

We are God’s beloved, the objects of God’s grace and love and as such, God’s glory rests upon us. I heard one preacher once say that if we ever got to see in this life the glory that will be ours in the next, we would be tempted to bend the knee and worship each other. Of course, that would violate the First Commandment and was certainly not what the preacher was advocating, but you see what he was getting at. We are so much more than what can be looked at.

If we could see each other the way Jesus sees us, our lives and world would look very different. For example, I believe that everyone wants to be loved and respected, but what if instead of seeing people as a way to get ourselves loved, we saw them as those inherently worthy and completely entitled to our love and respect. It would be very hard for selfishness or hatred to flourish under such conditions.

And what if we did things without even for a second wondering what we’d get out of it; how much quicker would we be to serve?
Or how about, giving of ourselves to absolutely anybody—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, to quote Jesus—for the sheer joy of it?

And as for status, can you imagine being free of wondering where we stand in the pecking order and of not worrying that our infinite worth is somehow diminished by the infinite worth of others?
That’s the Kingdom.
That’s what it means to be part of the Kingdom.
People don’t look the same.
We don’t look the same.
That’s why we pray: thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

Lord give us eyes to see each other the way Jesus sees us,
hearts unfettered by selfish motives,
and lives that reflect the glory of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.