Ordinary 22 Year C 2016
Luke 14 : 1,7-14
We have a passage this morning from Luke’s Gospel in which we hear about Jesus attending a meal of a Pharisee on a Sabbath and we are told that he was being carefully watched. When you read Sabbath and Pharisee you know that confrontation is on cards.
Jesus however is also watching carefully what is going on and he sees the guests jostle for position over where to sit. You can probably imagine how they choose their chairs and perhaps put garments over them to reserve them! So Jesus tells a parable about seats at the table
When I read the passage about seats I thought about all the different kinds of seats which had been important for me over the summer.
I rushed across the park with my own seat when I went to see Tom Jones. I rushed right past the VIP tent where there were reserved special seat for those who paid 100 extra but who seemed to be farther away ?
I thought about the seats I had chosen very carefully on an aeroplane so that I had extra leg room and I had been careful to go online and make sure that they were still securely booked in may name before I flew.
I thought about the seats which I booked for a concert in the Corn Exchange to hear the country group the Shires, and I see on the tickets that is says we are all standing.
And of course I remembered Jeremy Corbyn who couldn’t find seat on a train
Did Jesus frown upon my near front row seat at Tom Jones? Well no I don’t think so. But Jesus was very concerned about certain seating arrangements.
At the time of Jesus there were lots of dinners in the homes of the rich and influential. But they were more than dinners. In the same way that often a game of golf among business associates is so much more than a game of golf.
You invited certain people and who you invited and who came and where they sat was crucial. You invited people because you wanted a favour from them. You never invited them because they were lonely or hungry or left out, you invited them because there was a quid pro quo - a favour or advantage to be gained in so doing. This was how the rich and powerful manged to concentrate power among themselves to the exclusion of others.
You see it exactly the same in lots of ways today.
On 2 August the Telegraph said this
David Cameron’s honours’ list looks more like a seating plan for a Downing Street dinner party rather than a genuine assessment of the Britons who most deserve knighthoods and damehoods. Like Prime Ministers in the past, he has opted to reward his best mates rather than those who have contributed most to the country.
The teachings of Jesus it appears are bang up to date when it comes to identifying cronyism.
Jesus advocated a new way of doing things. We have to stop being nice to people just because they could be nice to us back. Instead we are to be nice to people because they too are God’s children no matter how poor or unlovely they were.
Jesus uses the example of seats around a banqueting table but the teaching is about so much more than table manners. Jesus is setting out a way of life.
The key passage this morning is
"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted"
This is the way of life in God’s kingdom and it stands conventional wisdom on its head.
Luke first introduced this reversal in Mary's Song, where she sang,
"He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down princes from their thrones. And has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things. He has sent the rich away empty" (1:51-53).
There is a very interesting advert on the TV by the bank HSBC. It shows the way that in different cultures around the world people behave differently
In America some CEO’s like to have meetings standing up to save time
In Japan CEO’s like to sit down and contemplate
In Thailand showing the soles of your feet is abhorrent and extremely rude
An outstretched hand gesture in parts of Greece is exceedingly offensive
In one country they bow in another they shake hands
It just tries to show that in different lands people behave differently.
Jesus is about the same business. He is showing that in God’s kingdom things are different.
Just as we would prepare for life in a foreign land by learning the language and customs, so we also need to prepare for the kingdom of God by learning and following Kingdom Rules now. The kingdom of God is for us a present reality and not just a future hope. Christians live with one foot in the kingdom of this world and the other foot in the kingdom of God.
It might be acceptable in our society to promote your friends and ignore people who you do not like for whatever reason, or to treat people differently because they are a different race, creed, gender etc. But in God’s kingdom all are equal and important and of value. Unlike us God always notices the least and humble of heart and in God’s eyes whilst they might be in the lowest places by choice or circumstances, he never overlooks them
Today we are encouraged to remember that God accepts us as we are and knows our every weakness. We do not need to push our way forward to be noticed and honoured because God notices all of us. We never need to promote ourselves because God knows who we are and where we are and calls us his friends.
We are honoured guests at his table, not because of what we have done and deserve, but because Jesus is our host and has called us to be his beloved guests, and brothers and sisters to one another. He hasn’t invited us because we are really clever or spiritual Usain Bolts, but because he already loves us.
The whole ministry of Jesus is centred on inviting into the presence of God those who neither expect nor deserve such an invitation
He notices Zacchaeus the tax collector up the tree
The woman who just wants to try and touch his garment
The crippled and lame
The ones considered too sinful
And he expects us to do the same.
As Christians we can never be caught in the trap of doing things ‘quid pro quo.’ We have received the love and mercy of God freely which can never be measured and there is nothing which we can give in return to justify or earn.
So Jesus teaches us to be on the lookout for the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.
It is important to remember that at that time those who were lame, crippled and blind were considered to like that because they were judged by God. There was not the understanding of disabilities which we have today, they were not given blue badges, these people were excluded from communities. These people were not permitted in the community at Qumran.
Now we don’t have that attitude today but there are other groups which are marginalized. So we are challenged as to how we react to them. The words of Jesus are also particularly challenging because his words are not about
who we say prayers for
or who we donate money towards.
Jesus demands action at a most fundamental level, who we prepared to get alongside and eat with.