Jeremiah 2: 4-13
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14: 1, 7–14
[Jesus said, ]
All who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
This week’s gospel lesson, where Jesus advises the people at a dinner party to choose the most humble place to sit, made me think of Granville. If you have come to a buffet-style meal at Bethel— the ones where we line up to walk through the kitchen and choose our food— you have probably noticed Granville hanging back and chatting with whomever is at the back of the line, gently insisting on being the last in line. He’s always been so mild and gracious about it, simply swinging around behind the latest person to arrive, placing them in front of himself. It helps that he’s a joy to visit with— one soon forgets the dance he’s doing, until the next person comes along, and Granville makes his move again. When he’s not there at the end of the line, it feels good to imitate him.
Now, if we all tried that same move at the same time, it would not be so graceful. But Granville has his own sweet way.
Jesus’ way is founded on humility, but humility is often misunderstood, even among Christians.
I found this commentary helpful, from Jan Richardson:
Where we sometimes equate humility with being a doormat, Roberta Bondi points out in her book To Love as God Loves: Conversations with the Early Church that “humility did not mean for them [[the ancient Christian teachers who lived in deserts]] a continuous cringing, cultivating a low self-image, and taking a perverse pleasure in being always forgotten, unnoticed, or taken for granted. Instead, humility meant to them a way of seeing other people as being as valuable in God’s eyes as ourselves. It was for them a relational term having to do precisely with learning to value others, whoever they were. It had to do with developing the kind of empathy with the weaknesses of others that made it impossible to judge others out of our own self-righteousness.”
At the root of humility is the Greek word humus. Earth. The earth that God made and called good, the earth from which, as one of the creation stories goes, God fashioned us.
Humility is our fundamental recognition that we each draw our life and breath from the same source, the God who made us and calls us beloved. Humility does not only prevent us from seeing ourselves as more deserving or graced or better than another. It compels us also to recognize that we are no less deserving or graced than another. For women, so often conditioned to take on roles and attitudes of subservience, this is a particular point that the desert teachers would have us understand. Humility draws us into mutual relation in which we allow no abuse, no demeaning, no diminishment of others or of ourselves.
In our progress this year through Luke’s gospel, we skip over Jesus’ parable of the banquet, which comes right after his advice about where to sit at banquets. In this parable, a host invites people but they make excuses and don’t attend (next year, we will read that story in Matthew’s version). You know how this story goes: when the first folks who were invited didn’t bother to show up, the host “became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’” - Luke 14:21
To the best of my understanding, Jesus made two main points with this story.
First, God’s involvement with human history at one time focused on His relationship with the children of Abraham, the Jews. But, as most of the prophets said, the chosen people proved unfaithful, and frankly uninterested in God’s covenant love. So with the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, God’s covenant love is radically available to all people. Today, God welcomes everybody.
Second, Jesus wants us, his disciples, to practice extravagant hospitality toward the people whom our ungodly culture views as losers and unworthy. Being Christ-like includes sacrificing what seems to be our self-interest for the sake of other people. As with God’s love toward us, we are not to discriminate, but to welcome all humans.
Jesus promises to “exalt” us when we obediently humble ourselves. So whatever we thought was our self-interest... probably wasn’t.
Only one life: 'twill soon be past.
Only what's done for Christ will last.