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.”
In today’s gospel reading Jesus takes on the social code of his day. He lives in an honor-and-shame culture where status is pretty much everything, and one of the key places where status was displayed is mealtime. Guests of honor were seated close to the host, while those of lesser importance sat further away. And those who weren’t invited at all correspondingly mattered not at all. Status was important … and it could be fragile. To be invited to a better position at the table of an important host wasn’t simply an honor, it could also have tangible benefits to your business pursuits as well. Similarly, to be invited to a lower position could affect all dimensions of your life.
Jesus, therefore, is touching on matters of great importance as he makes two sets of interesting and inter-related comments. In the first he gives what seems to be good advice -- don’t think too highly of yourself. Be modest. Better to start from a lower position and be invited higher than place yourself ahead of others and asked to move higher.
Jesus said "For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." But why should we take a lower seat? Why should we be humble, and let others go first? We will never get anywhere in life that way, will we? Someone said if we teach our children to let others go first, they will never learn to merge on the freeway!
We want to feel important. We want the best seat in the house, the best for our family. We want to be in the front row! But do we deserve the front row? Have we earned that position? I don’t know about you, but I am not sure I belong at the head table when God calls me to the banquet table. There are some things I have done, and some things I have left undone. Hmmm.
We come before the altar this day, confessing our sins. Luther said, “we are all beggars, this is true.” We come unworthy of God’s love and forgiveness. And when we realize that we cannot save ourselves, it is then we can lean on Jesus. For it is because of Jesus, dying for our sins and rising to new life, we are forgiven, lifted up, exalted as forgiven, worthy, righteous in God’s eyes by God’s doing through Jesus Christ and not ours! Be humble – let God be the one to move you on up!.
Let us pray: O God, you resist those who are proud and give grace to those who are humble. Give us the humility of your Son, that we may embody the generosity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.