October 20, 2017

Table Talk: Grace, Humility, and Hospitality

By Chaplain Mike

Today’s Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14.

In this Sunday’s text, we find Jesus at a familiar place in the Gospel of Luke—at a table, talking to people who struggle to grasp grace and its implications.

Humility (14:7-11)
In Jesus’ day, the seating arrangement at feasts was in a “U” shape, with the host at the center where the sides joined; the “head” of the table, as it were. The best, most sought-after seats were the ones next to him, and those who had been invited would do their best to procure them. Those to whom good seats had been promised beforehand would often arrive a bit late so that they would be seen “ascending” to the more desirable places. Sometimes, however, the host would invite a guest who sat farther down the line to come and take a seat closer to him. This was a great honor. Of course, this meant someone else got “bumped” down to a less coveted place farther from the head. That would be just plain embarrassing.

That this was a long-practiced tradition can be seen from the advice given in Proverbs 25:6-7—

Do not claim honor in the presence of the king,
And do not stand in the place of great men;
For it is better that it be said to you, “Come up here,”
Than for you to be placed lower in the presence of the prince,
Whom your eyes have seen. (NASB)

I like Eugene Peterson’s earthy paraphrase of this wise social advice:

Don’t work yourself into the spotlight;
don’t push your way into the place of prominence.
It’s better to be promoted to a place of honor
than face humiliation by being demoted. (MSG)

Though Jesus’ words are certainly in line with this practical counsel, one suspects that the Savior was addressing something more substantial than mere social etiquette. He is speaking to that spirit of pride which not only affects relations with our neighbors, but also our relationship with God. Jesus’ own disciples were prone to this, as when some of them asked for seats next to the throne in the coming kingdom. There is this distressing human tendency to seek advantage, not only for ourselves, but also over others. And, as C.S. Lewis said, a prideful person cannot see God, for he is always looking down on others.

So Jesus is advocating a humility that shows itself in the various situations of our lives; a humility that recognizes our place before God and among our neighbors. A humble person gladly and quietly takes the lower place. If an opportunity for something higher is offered, he is free to receive it gratefully. The builders of Babel sought to “make a name for themselves”. Abraham responded to the One who called him out of Babel, promising “I will make your name great”.

Proper humility is simply a reasonable response to grace. To be invited to the feast in the first place is an honor. No human being who ever lived created himself or herself. And then to think that the One who opened the door and welcomed us into this feast would go further and summon us to come closer so that we might enjoy his personal fellowship! If we are pridefully seeking advantage for ourselves, stepping over our neighbors in the process, we have no concept of the grace that is extended to us with every breath and every benefit we receive.

Hospitality (14:12-14)
What’s this? More practical advice about party planning? And what strange counsel! Ah, I think I get it now. More “table talk” from Jesus about grace and its implications.

As humility is a reasonable response to grace, so is hospitality. Those who grasp the great privilege of having been granted a place at the table have no interest in denying a place to others. In fact, once we have seen the delight in our Host’s face when he has taken opportunity to lavish privileges on those who deserve no such favors, we long to see his joy again and again. And we too find immense satisfaction in helping others who have little or no opportunity to enjoy the feast. Not because they can do something for us in return, but simply because having been graced, we rejoice in seeing others receive that same unmerited favor.

Conclusion
Our tables say a lot about us.

  • How much gratitude do I show for the place that has been set for me?
  • Whom have I invited to share what I have received?

Luke 14:1, 7-14 (GNT)—

One Sabbath Jesus went to eat a meal at the home of one of the leading Pharisees; and people were watching Jesus closely….

…Jesus noticed how some of the guests were choosing the best places, so he told this parable to all of them: When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place. It could happen that someone more important than you has been invited, and your host, who invited both of you, would have to come and say to you, Let him have this place. Then you would be embarrassed and have to sit in the lowest place. Instead, when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that your host will come to you and say, Come on up, my friend, to a better place. This will bring you honor in the presence of all the other guests. For those who make themselves great will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be made great.

Then Jesus said to his host, When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors; for they will invite you back, and in this way you will be paid for what you did. When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind; and you will be blessed, because they are not able to pay you back. God will repay you on the day the good people rise from death.

Comments

  1. Thanks Chaplain Mike. I have enjoyed these Sunday Morning Gospels. Peace

  2. Bettina Klix says:

    Thank you, Chaplain, for your “tabletalk”. I have never seen the connections between grace, humility and hospitality so clearly, – even painfully, in remembering….

  3. what does it mean to invite the crippled, the lame, etc.? Is this literal? my wedding is just hours away and so far ive invited my relatives and friends who can repay me. Is this wrong? Sorry i don’t understand..

    • Well, think of it like this. Everyday we live in this world, we are in contact and communion with all sorts of people. Who do you spend your time communing with every day? Is it the people who are fun, who are nice or attractive or important or wealthy? Do you spend time with them because they make you feel good about yourself or because you might get something from them? Or do you seek instead to spend time with those who need you to comfort, to help, to love them?

      I wouldn’t go walking around the slums looking for hobos to invite to your wedding (Congratulations, btw!). But the sort of people you have invited may perhaps be an indication of the sort of people you have made a habit of associating with. Are they the ‘proper’ sort? All of them? Then perhaps you need to work on how you interact with people – perhaps you need to start seeing people as people to be loved, rather than as resources to be utilized. But if so, don’t feel too badly. You would hardly be alone.

      You are about to do something grave, something magnificent, something wonderful and a little bit (in the old sense of the word) terrible. That should be your focus today. Focus on your spouse-to-be, on the promises you make and the seals you form. Notice who is around you as you do it, just in the corner of your mind. Begin to fix it, little by little, as soon as you can.

    • Even for a wedding, is there anyone you made sure you didn’t invite because (for whatever reason)?

      That slightly odd friend from way back that you would much rather forget about now? That cousin who never gets on with the rest of the family? That aunt who always complains?

      It’s not wrong to have friends and family around for parties and celebrations of family occasions, and that’s not what Our Lord is saying. But suppose you’re calculating about spending a lot of money on a very impressive present to make a good impression on a family member or someone at work for your advantage; maybe buy a cheaper present and give the difference to charity (and don’t pocket it for yourself on the basis that ‘oh, these bums on the street could get jobs if they wanted’).

      It’s reinforcing the point that “The last shall be first and the first shall be last” and “Whatsoever you did unto these, the least of my brethren, ye did unto Me”.

      • I have a friend who’s getting married. His fiancee put off the wedding a year so that his brother couldn’t attend, as he’s being deployed to Iraq a little before then.

        Extreme example.

    • In an agrarian society the crippled, the lame, and the blind would have a very difficult time finding work – farm labor, physical labor. Jesus is not speaking specifically of these groups, but of all those who might have a tougher time in life. These are the people who wouldn’t be able to help one advance socially or in business.

      Take a typical office environmental. You are thinking of inviting a couple of well-placed coworkers to lunch because they are in a position to put in a good word on that promotion you want. Instead you invite that guy whose name nobody can remember, who always looks nervous and wears odd clothes. He can do absolutely nothing for your career, but he does look like he could use a friend.

      • The disabled unemployment rate in America is 60%ish, even 20 years after the ADA. The point still works pretty well today – making friends with crips and including them in your life is not likely to make your day to day easier or more advatageous. 😉

        • Granted, the unemployment and under-employment rate is still much too high. But there are also many people with physical disabilities who have accomplished quite a bit that would not have been possible back then. Consider the Internet, for example. Technology has enriched the lives of many people with limited mobility. I think it might be possible to miss the point by thinking Jesus is referring specifically to people with physical disabilities. I believe he means all people not in a position to further our ambitions. I do think it also means the people we are least comfortable with, which for some might mean people with disabilities.

  4. Jerevs5232 says:

    Thank you Chaplain Mike. How many times do we see the preacheretts,worship leaderettes and ministerettes who have the perfect seating chart and facility for the feast? Of course these event co-ordinators have spoken to the host and will get us closer. In their pride and self promotion, they have the whole affair under control. Just look how they move through the crowd, taking care of everything for the host. But when the host calls us to the head of the table, the seating chart flies right out the window. There is no pecking order at His table. Instead of being grateful to be at the feast, much of “ministry” today is about running the banquet. The christian life begins in grateful humility(response to grace) and lives in being willing to be in the back of the room so others can share(community) and having joy in seeing others called by the Master who has the feast put together perfectly (hospitality). Your table talk is right on the mark. It’s all about control. Thank you for pointing the way and not offering to co-ordinate the event.

  5. This post reminds me of the 2000 Camp David talks between Ehud Barak and Yassar Arafat. There’s a video clip of them entering Camp David before they get out of sight of the media, and the two of them are struggling to allow the other to enter first.

    They’ve gone so far the other way they came out on the other side again. A show of humility has become, in their minds, a way to show superiority to the other person. Assertiveness is used by the simple to gain status; humility so-called is used by the clever to do the same.

  6. This is one of the hardest things for me: pride. The funny thing about pride is how is sneaks up on you. The parable above is a good example. We often think of pride as gloating or arrogance, but it can actually carry over into the relationships we have. We all want to hang out with people who are funny and interesting, but Jesus calls us to love everyone.

    A good example is a guy I work with. He talks entirely too much. And he knows everything about everything. It’s hard to talk to the guy because he super annoying. But to me that’s the arrogance. Maybe he thinks I’m annoying. Maybe other people think the same. I shouldn’t assume that I’m so great to talk to. And if I found out people felt the same way about me, I’d probably be hurt. So I try to give him a chance, and talk to him. But the large amount of pride that I’m dealing with makes it hard.

  7. Thank you for this post, Chaplain Mike. Like many other red-letter words (as I call them), reading Jesus challenges so much of my religiosity-churchianity upbringing. I used to think I was not prideful. Ha! I used to think success was measured in wordly standards and even in appearance. Ha!

    I’m curious what you think of Jesus’ sharp words of the religious leaders in Matthew 23. Don’t allow anyone to call you ‘Rabbi’. Don’t call any ‘Father.’ Don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher.’ What is humility? The greatest became a servant. But oh how this world makes us want for our own glory–to be heard, to be admired, to be honored, to be elevated, to be advanced, to keep rising the ladder. Jesus denounced the religious leaders with “What sorrow awaits you…hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are filthy-full or greed and self-indulgence! (vs. 25). And “You are like whitewashed tombs–beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.”

    Sadly, I can see my self in that. Oh how careful I was to be a “good” Christian, doing all the “right” things. But I showered I was in self-indulgent excess too. I pray that I will take my place of humility and I thank God for showing me how badly in need of a Savior I really am.

    Long-winded me, sorry, this was meant to be a thanks!

  8. Gee Chaplain Mike, if our tables say a lot about us…. i guess you must be coming from the “silver spoon in the mouth & degree in Theology” middle class Christian perspective…

    all i got is a coffee table… my guests have to sort of “crowd around it” if they want to get fed… that’s assuming we’ve got any food that day..

    guess that must mean I’m not a “good Christian”.. my own fault really, i should have sent more money to the TV evangelists when they asked for it… i could have got it back a “hundred fold”… pressed together, squeezed down and rolled around,….. or whatever, and bought myself a big ol’ dinner table for all ‘dem humble Christian guests…

  9. Great commentary on God’s Word. Few comments.

    I published something about Moral Orel of the Cartoon network and you’d a thought I shot a politician.

    And now there’s the article about alien fossils on Mars. It’s gotten ten times more hits than any other post.

    It’s another proof of the accuracy of scripture. You know – the description of the heart of man…