Tomorrow morning we will encounter the Gospel reading from Luke 14 wherein Jesus tells the parable of the Great Banquet. Through this story Jesus exhorts his listeners to invite those who cannot repay them when they give a feast such as the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. This seems to be a simple story to understand and on a base level it is, but on another level it is quite powerful.
In the ancient world people gave banquets as means of getting ahead, of climbing the social ladder. Therefore, when someone gave a banquet they did so for some type of personal gain whether for more honor or for more status. Jesus turns this upside down when he encourages the inviting of the poor and the lowly who would not be able to provide the host with any type of gain. In other words, Jesus is encouraging his audience not to climb the social ladder, but to go down it. By breaking bread with such persons as the poor, the crippled, the lame the host was taking on their lowly honor and status and thereby making himself look worse in the eyes of the prevailing social order. Jesus was, in effect, refuting what we would call the “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” game.
Go down, not up. Quite countercultural.
It’s interesting that this comes from the Lukan Jesus whose audience consists of early Christians who are struggling to remain faithful to the Gospel as they are being called out of such a social world. It’s a struggle because going up brings security, wealth, friends, status, honor. Very simply, it brings value to one’s life, to one’s name, to one’s family. Take these thing away and what are you left with?
Going down, though, is based on something else. It begins from a place of worth. Jesus the human being does this because he knows who He is, he knows who God is and he knows that God is the One who assigns value and he knows that He will provide him with what he needs. In a sense, it could be said that Jesus was an incredibly secure man. He did not need others to tell him who he was, what kind of value he had, what kind of honor he held because such things were only truly derived from God. God is at the center. Writing to a people whose known social worlds are falling apart the Lukan Jesus is reminding them what really matters. Remember what Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about your life…consider the ravens.”
I’ll confess to you that this is something that I struggle with. So often I seek worth in things outside of God. How smart I am or am not, who I know or who I don’t know, the accomplishments or lack thereof, where I am from and where I am not from, who likes me and who doesn’t like me, and the list can go on and on. All of these things, though, are fleeting and are not the things that make me valuable or loved. God is. Often in my emptiness I seek to be filled and validated by those things instead of God. The reality, though, is that God is more than enough and all that we need.
Go figure, right?