Luke 14:1, 7-14
Jesus in our reading from Luke is warning us away from being prideful. Remember the old axiom: pride goes before the fall. He’s challenging us to be humble and not presume we are any better than anyone else.
When we are invited to a gathering, we are to resist the temptation of seeking the center of attention. We are not to hide in a corner, but we are expected to value everyone there as a child of God. We are not to presume we are any better than anyone else.
And similarly if we are the host of a gathering we are not to seek guests who will raise us up, but to invite those who can most benefit from our generosity. We are not to expect pay back, but to invite people out of the generosity of our souls.
But more to the point Jesus is calling us to have inclusive hearts and souls. We need to be humble and embracing in our souls. Deep down inside we are to accept all people as children of God irrespective of their situation or condition.
Jesus lived in a heavily stratified world, where position and class was pronounced and often dictated how you were treated and how you treated others. The least of us were truly treated as the least.
We no longer have such a strictly stratified society. Yet deep within us we still construct barriers to people of certain “classes.”
Remember the movie, “the Titanic”. There was also a Broadway musical about the Titanic that was staged in 1997. The musical does a better job than the movie of depicting the intense class consciousness of the people traveling on that ship. In 1912, the Victorian age was coming to an end as the storm clouds of war gathered on the horizon. People were truly amazed at the work of human hands, and the ship itself was a great expression of technology and engineering that even competed, it seemed, with divine design. It was common to hear the words, "Even God couldn't sink this ship!" In the play as the people board, class by class, you hear the sharp divisions between them, the ranking by worth that was determined by their money. The ship had many levels, and no one was permitted to cross the lines that separated one class from another. It simply wasn't done.
At the top of the pyramid were the millionaires – famous names like Guggenheim and Astor and Strauss, people who had made a lot of money in the new world of capitalism that concentrated a lot of wealth in the hands of a few. Now, the rich people, the first class passengers, enjoyed a particular way of living and a particular way of being treated – because of their class. They hung around only with one another – that way, they could strike business deals with each other and talk about the coronation they had recently attended in England. They definitely got special treatment and a place of honor at every meal. They assumed they would, of course. That was the way things worked, and you were not to break the rules and traditions that were firmly in place.
Below them, the second or middle class passengers hoped to strike it rich, perhaps, but for the most part, they accepted their place (which wasn't too bad), behaved as expected, and looked down upon the third class passengers below them.
And the third class passengers, the working class and the poor, were people who were hungry for all that America had to offer. In Maury Yeston's evocative lyrics, one young Irish woman sings, "I will be a proper person. People will look up to me….I want to be a lady's maid in America, where the streets are paved with gold." Another wants to be a governess, and another a sewing girl. A man sings of being a policeman, another an engineer, and another a shopkeeper: "far beyond the northern sea, a new life can unfold" and a person can rise above himself, rise above herself – that is their hope. They came from grinding poverty, many of them, and they saw America as a great beacon of hope for them, and as you listen to them, you can't resist hoping with them.
You all know what happened to these people. You know what happened to the miracle of technology and engineering that could supposedly outsmart even God. And you know how much the "god" of class really mattered when the ship went down. Without a doubt, there was unfairness in the loading of the lifeboats, but in any case, rich and poor alike, hundreds of them, including the millionaires, suffered together a terrible fate.
As the ship slowly gathers water and begins to list, its designer, Mr. Andrews, studies the drawings that show what alterations could have made the ship truly unsinkable (he sounds as if he is his own false god). Then he describes what the ordeal of the sinking will be like, with swarms of people running in panic from the advancing and freezing water: "They'll lose all sense of right and wrong, it will be every man for himself, all right, the weak thrown in with all the strong – First class and third and second will mean nothing! And sheer humanity alone will prevail – one single class. . ." [Lyrics by Maury Yeston].
It is just this type of attitude that Jesus warns us about: that no matter how superior we think that we are from another, in the end we are all in life together. We need to work together not one above another, but each side by side to live and thrive.
But we cannot do this simply on command or on-demand. We have to live and breathe this way of living … that I am not superior to you and you are not to me. There are no superiors … and no inferiors. God has blessed each of us with talent, skills, and roles in society … no one is superior to another. A doctor is no more superior to the garbage collector than the garbage collector is to … well, do we surmise some worker “lower” than a garbage collector?
By the way if the garbage collectors ever go on strike, we would quickly discover just how important the garbage collector is!
We need to change the habits of our souls and hearts. We need it to be normative that we respect all the people and not pre-judge anyone. Mr. Andrews in the play may have finally realized this … though too late as he faces his last moment. Sometimes though, it is a trauma that drives us to opening our souls to others.
But we pray it need not take this. Rather we need to be intentional in our change of heart and soul.
Laurie and I watch old TV series at home. One that we watch is Touch By An Angel. We learned that the executive producer is very religious of the Evangelical persuasion. But we have found the episodes and the faith portrayed in them to be open hearted.
A couple of weeks ago we watched an episode about a father and his son. The father was a perfectionist and could not tolerate flaws. He was a violin maker and very studious in making flawless violins.
He had hoped his son would go into the business, but instead his son went off to be a lawyer. They were close, but his son did not visit home very much. One Christmas he came home … professing he wanted to experience all the love and wonder of his family Christmas.
As the story unfolded, we learn that the son is gay and he had been hiding it, feeling very flawed because of it and very sinful. Now Laurie and I became suspicious as to where this episode was going. Our expectation … and misjudgment … of the producer was that somehow the young man would be redeemed from his gay-ness.
In fact the episode portrayed the angels … the messengers of God … comforting the young man … who is now rejected by his father … that God accepts him and loves him as he is.
Eventually they bring the father around and he too accepts his son as the son lies dying of AIDS.
This is what Jesus is calling us into: to accept the other at our table and to sit with them at table humbly. We may not be comfortable with them. We may not think much of them. But deep in our souls and hearts we are to embrace them as children of God … and leave the judging to God.
Think about it.
God’s grace and love be with you …