Proverbs 25.6-7; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13.1-8, 15-16; Luke 14.1, 7-14
This little sliver of news and the traction it got says quite a bit about the world we live in. The fact that we keep lists of the billionaires and rank them by how much money they have says something. The fact that ‘falling off’ that list because of your charitable contributions is news says something as well.
We live in a world where bigger is better, where a person’s value to society is measured by their income, title and pile of stuff. We rank. We count. We judge. We make lists of tallest buildings, and largest cities. We award gold medals, shiny statues, and strive to get on the ‘best of’ lists. And we are surprised when someone is willing to give any part of that up.
Really, our world today isn’t much different that the world Jesus lived in. They also counted, ranked and judged. One of the ways this was visible in society was in invitations to banquets and a persons’ place at the table once they got there. You received an invitation if you had a certain amount of prestige, wealth and standing. And once you attended, the expectation was that you reciprocated. You would return the honor of the hosts’ invitation with an invitation of your own.
Jesus offers another way. Jesus invites us to stop ranking, counting and judging. Jesus invites us to sit with those the world says we shouldn’t. Because that is what the kingdom of God will look like, and we are invited to start participating in that kingdom right now.
Sometimes, though, we misunderstand Jesus’ invitation. So instead of leaving behind the ranking, counting and judging, we use it on the other end of the spectrum. We take the humility we are called to and turn it into passivity and self-degredation. Instead of focusing on the top of the lists, we focus on the bottom. We think of ‘the first shall be last and the last shall be first’ and become stuck in our thinking it’s still about the lists and the ranks.
It’s then when we’ve missed the point, the good news - that the ranking, counting and judging can be left behind completely. When our counting comes from fear that there isn’t enough, it becomes pointless with a God whose love is boundless.
A major theme of the entire gospel of Luke is that God’s measure of membership in the kingdom has everything to do with how God sees us and not how we see ourselves or how the world sees us. And though we at times may identify with the poor, crippled and lame and at others we identify with the wealthy - all God sees is beloved children. We are ALL invited to God’s table, knowing that wealthy OR poor we can never return the invitation. We are freed from the world’s system of comparison and competition knowing God would never do that to us.
Knowing this freedom, we are then freed for service – for living out God’s kingdom. We, like Jesus, can invite the least expected. It won’t make our lives easier, but it will make them better. Living out God’s kingdom NOW means not letting our lives be driven by the fears that drive us to count and rank and compete. If instead of fears of scarcity, we live in a sense of abundance and blessing, we are living out God’s kingdom.
Once we stop wasting our time calculating social prestige and stop worrying about what others are thinking, we can give and bless freely, we can simply be kind to everyone around us and invite others in from the margins of our society - at work, at school, wherever we are. And like in many other gospel stories, particularly in the Gospel of Luke, the poor, crippled, and lame are particularly named. As Christians globally, we’re pretty good at taking that part literally. But what if those named in this story - the ‘poor, crippled, and lame’ are understood as what they symbolize - those on the outside, those who are treated without dignity, those seen as less than human.
Victoria, the writer of the blog Lutheran Moxies writes:
The poor might be the politicians too poor in compassion to engage in compromise. The lame might be those hobbled by their love of power. The crippled might be the warmongers who are too crippled by hatred to reach for peace. The blind might be those who can’t see God’s vision for justice. For me, those are the people that are really, really difficult to invite to the table…But they can show us what the kingdom of heaven looks like. Because theirs are the faces gathered around the heavenly banquet - those people we’ve avoided and insulted and hated - not because we’re bad people, but because they are. Christ came for them.
I don’t know the reasons that JK Rowling gives incredible amounts of her wealth to charity. But no matter what she’s motivated by, she’s living out God’s kingdom. But what is also true is that no matter how much she gives, she’ll never buy God’s honor and exaltation. All she has to do, all we have to do to receive that is simply be.
In the end, a place of honor can’t be seized, it must be given. The good news today - God gives us a place at the table, honor, love, acceptance, no matter where the world would have us sit. The challenge today - we will be sitting with those we really would rather not. The hope - that we learn to honor and love them as God does.