28 August 2016
Imagine with me for a moment planning for your daughter's wedding.
Some of you have been on that train before, some of you are still looking forward to doing that in the future, and some of us may never do such a thing, but imagine it with me for a moment. Everyone is getting ready for the big day in the months leading up to it, and you spend countless hours checking out the banquet hall, picking out the table settings, the food and the order of its serving. You pay thousands of dollars in anticipation of the biggest party you'll ever throw. Then one day your daughter comes home with devastating news. The marriage is off. The wedding is not going to happen. In the after math of the emotional storm, you remember that you have already paid for a lavish four course meal in one of the ritziest halls in town.
What are you going to do?
A couple of years ago, a couple in Atlanta found themselves in this very situation. Do you know what they did? Instead of hosting a wedding reception, they gave the banquet to the local food pantry. Instead of 200 classy, dressed to the nines, family and friends, they hosted 200 homeless people, men, women, and children, to the banquet of a lifetime. It was a learning experience for everyone, the family who hosted and the people who attended. Many would say it was a once in a lifetime event, except now, the family has since hosted, with the help of sponsors across the city, multiple years of this same event. Treating the outcasts of society to a banquet like none other.
I believe this is the kind of overturning of society and economy Jesus is talking about in
the gospel passage this morning. Not many people would do such a thing, though we would all like to believe that we would be so graceful to manage to do similarly in their
situation, but I am pretty sure it would be a challenge for most of us. We aren't used to
this kind of overturning of our social and financial systems.
In the first century, the major class systems were based on birth status and honor. In
Jewish society, who you could eat with and when and where was all determined by the
honor system. Honor was such an important aspect of society in those days. There was a
long in-depth, not-written down list of rules about what could be done with who and who could be seen with who in what capacity and so forth. Society elite has been functioning this way for millennia. So, when Jesus tells the people at the dinner at the Pharisee’s house that they should all be inviting the blind, the lame, the poor, the sick to their banquets, Jesus is overturning proper society. All of the people that Jesus mentions are outcasts in society. It would look odd for a Pharisee to be inviting those outcasts to his house for dinner. There would go his honor, it would have some major dents in it then. There would go his place in society.
In the twenty first century world, we like to think we have gotten past this idea of class
systems. That everyone is on the same level playing field. But you and I both know that
the way we relate to each other is through the money system, that’s our American class
system. We have less concern with honor as our status symbol, instead, we have money
and the luxury additions that come with money. Clothes, cars, tvs, jewelry, and so on.
Bishop Andrew Doyle of the Diocese of Texas writes on his blog, “I have a friend who
likes to say, “The reason Jesus was killed is he ate with sinners.” It always strikes me as a
shocking thing to say. I believe it challenges me because I don’t like to think on a day to
day basis that in America we have a class system. […] it is just difficult to see. I
mentioned this to a friend and priest and we had a long discussion about the matter and
he said something I had not thought of before. He commented on the fact that Americans are able to purchase anything. A member of the middle or lower middle class, even some of the lower classes can wear the clothes the rich wear; they can eat at the restaurants the rich eat in. He said this gives the false idea of a level playing field and makes money the central commodity in the system that moves you up and down. Therefore your class is established essentially based upon your longevity to afford any particular lifestyle; whether you can afford it for an hour at a fine dining establishment or a weekend in a posh resort.”
Whether we want to acknowledge this fact or not, we call all testify to judging other
people based on their clothing, on their car, or their house, or their stuff. We are very
effective at this kind of judging and separation in our lives. Its part of the system we use
to determine who we are. We all long to know where we stand in the world, and in this
system, our use and amount of money defines how we belong in society, which in turn,
defines who we are.
However, Jesus invites us to know who we are through a different system. Not based on
our births or our honor, what other people think of us or the amount of money we have.
Jesus invites us to know who we are based on a system that is hardly a system at all.
Jesus invites us into knowing who we are based on how God sees us. And luckily, Jesus
tells us how God sees us. He sees us in two ways, as sinners, and as beloved.
The major theme of the gospel passage this morning is about humility. Humility, being
humble, not relating to other people through honor or money, but through knowing who
you truly are. Humility is a spiritual practice that requires knowing who you are. It’s a
spiritual practice of the hardest sort. Accepting the fact that we are both created with the
potential for both good and bad actions. That we are made out of the same material, carry the same type of energy, watch the same television shows as people who are evil and people who are saints. We are made of the same stuff as what is at the bottom of the latrine, and we are the same stuff as what powers the stars in the sky. Frederick Buechner wrote, "True humility doesn't consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you'd be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do."
Once we acknowledge that we are all both sinners and beloved, we can related to each
other through humility, acting as Jesus describes in the gospel passage this morning.
Inviting the poor and blind and lame and the homeless to the banquet without worrying
about whether or not society will accept it, without worrying about whether or not anyone will steal anything.
Humility is a spiritual practice that is seen and not heard. It is a spiritual practice that
challenges us, but it is action that speaks louder than any words. It is an acknowledging
that you do not need to be the honored guest at the table. It’s hard to live the way Jesus
describes in our gospel passage today. I struggle, we all struggle, with the challenge that
God has put before us. To humble ourselves, to remember that we are all sinners and we
are all God’s beloved children.