Kingdom Etiquette – Luke 14:1, 7-14
Since Jesus was so opposed to the Pharisees’ interpretation of the Law and their hunger for power and authority, it is peculiar to me at first glance, that he would be receptive to going to a Pharisee’s home to eat a meal on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were always so willing to scrutinize Jesus’ teaching and activities, and were constantly looking for an opportune moment to trap him for what they perceived to be a violation of the Law. Luke says, “They were watching him closely.” However, the scrutiny was mutual in that Luke records Jesus’ perfect response, “When Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable” (v. 7), which became a prototype for the kind of etiquette Jesus was promoting for the Kingdom of God. Jesus had no patience with arrogant celebrations and/or behavior. He did not like prolonged, premeditated and excessive celebrations. He likened the parable to a feast. He cautioned participants not to sit down in the places of honor, lest someone more distinguished show up and give the host a reason to say, “Give this person your place” causing you to take a walk of shame to a lower place.” AWK-WARD! Jesus advises, “When you are invited, go and sit down in 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 with you’ ” (v. 10).
The point of the parable is that in the Kingdom of God we come as shirt-tail relatives to the marriage feast of the Lord and discover to our amazement that the host has saved the places of honor for us. Rather than being last on the invited guest list, we are called “friends” of the bridegroom (Jesus) in the presence of all. Our true identity, says Jesus is not that of a distant acquaintance. We are among those who sit with the most High as Christ’s friends and equals.
This kind of behavior is not a sign of arrogance, rather it puts you in the Humility Hall of Fame, a concept which is an oxymoron and illogical. Our culture is teaching a totally different kind of action. Children want trophies just for participating in sports, not for winning tournaments. Parents expect their kids to be admitted to Ivy League colleges, even though only one in ten will get in. College students want A’s, not because they have studied hard and learned a lot but because they showed up for class and paid $3000 tuition for the class!
And what about reality television, full of people who become famous for outrageous behavior, not for any particular skills or achievements: The Real Husbands of Hollywood, Jersey Shore, The Bachelor, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, just to name a few. Jesus makes a prediction that should be heeded by the reality television stars and all of us. “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (v.11).
Senator George McGovern died last year, a Democrat who lost to Republican Richard Nixon. McGovern was no coward. He was a decorated bomber pilot in World War II, who served his country bravely and well. His staff urged him to talk about his war experiences, but like many veterans, he was reluctant to do so. He referred to himself as the son of a Methodist minister; a “good old South Dakota boy” who went off to war and had been married to the same woman forever. In short, he was humble. Maybe that humility served him well, because at the end of his life he was awarded the World Food Prize along with Republican Senator Bob Dole. Dole wrote in The Washington Post that “our most important commonality–the one that would unite us during and after our Capitol Hill service, was our shared desire to eliminate hunger in this country and around the world. As colleagues in the 1970s on the Senate Hunger and Human Needs Committee, we worked together to reform the Food Stamp Program, expand the domestic school lunch program and establish the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
Later, they worked in tandem to strengthen global feeding, nutrition and education programs. They jointly proposed a program to provide poor children with meals at schools in countries throughout Africa, Asia, Latin American and Eastern Europe, a program supported by both presidents Clinton and Bush, which now succeeds in providing meals to 22 million children in 41 different countries. McGovern and Dole, Democrat and Republican. Both fought in World War II. Both ran for president and lost, but neither are losers. Losers do not work together quietly and effectively to provide meals to 22 million children.
Jesus has concern for feeding the hungry, especially those who have no way to repay generosity shown to them. He says, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors in case they may invite you in return and you would be repaid” (v.12). Most of us have dinners or gatherings for exactly the groups Jesus mentions. We enjoy feeding them and being fed by them. But Jesus tells us to go a different direction and think of hungry children, whether they are 2 or 2 million. “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (vv.13-14). Feed those who cannot repay you, commands Jesus. Make lunch or dinner for these people, not folks who easily pay you back with a lunch or dinner of their own. And do not just make it a meal, make it a celebration!
As followers of Jesus, we ought to work harder to make Christianity the most popular institution in the land. Being a follower of Jesus is a counter-cultural game to play, one that is based on the belief that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (v.11). Anything and everything we do to serve others without expectation of a payback will be seen as a success in the eyes of Jesus, and will move us closer to the expected etiquette in the Kingdom of God.