Jeremiah 2:4-13; Luke 14:1, 7-14
Perhaps unlike the wedding in Jesus’ time, modern weddings can be complicated affairs. At a wedding recently where I was asked to officiate, Sarah and I were both invited to the reception. Not really knowing any of the other family guests, we assumed we’d be sitting at one of the lower tables. So there we were scanning the table list for our names. No sign of our names on tables 14, 13 etc we surmised that we mustn’t have been invited for the meal after all. It was only as we were about to slip away quietly that we noticed our names – at the top table, table number one!
Unlike the proud guests at the Jesus’ wedding, we were glad that we hadn’t fallen into the trap of thinking ourselves more important than the others and taking the top seats before ‘being invited’ to.
The context of the Jesus story matters. Luke tells us it takes place on a Sabbath and places it after a conflict with the religious authorities on a previous Sabbath involving the healing of a crippled woman.
So the Pharisees are out to get Jesus. They’re out to get him. They’re watching him very closely. Their hearts were closed and filled with self-righteous pride. They needed to hear a story about humility and they needed to resolve in their hearts to turn around and obey the message.
The story raises at least three questions:
How can I deal with the pride and prejudice in my heart?
How can I practise humility in my relationships?
Who are those who can’t afford to repay me – the “misfits from across the tracks” (Eugene Peterson) – and how do I/we ‘invite’ them?
The answer to the first question is quite simple. We need it taken from us. We need our hearts circumcised. We need new hearts and new patterns of thinking. Which brings us to Jesus. On the cross he died to take our sin from us. So we look to him and bring our prideful hearts to his cross, nailing our pride there and thanking him for taking it from us. We die to that part of our self once again.
Peterson tweeted this week that the whole spiritual life is about learning to die. Dying to self means rising with Christ. It allows for new patterns of thinking to emerge with the help of the Holy Spirit. Humility is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
The answer to the second question flows from this. We practise humility by consenting to the Spirit’s leading in our daily lives. The Spirit will produce (grow) humility as we fix our eyes on Jesus. We learn to do beautiful things with and for others without expecting a reward.
Jesus teaches that those who humble themselves will be exalted and vice versa
(14:11). The Message translates that verse this way:
“If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself”.
Being content to be yourself in an age that constantly tells us that ourself is not enough is a tricky business. All around we hear, if only you had this product or gadget or habit you’d be more than you are now. The trouble with going down that route is that it has no end, or rather, it’s a dead end. It’s not the key to life. Being content to be yourself as you are at this moment allows you to become more than yourself in the next.
Paul tells Timothy that “true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth” (6:6). Learning to be yourself, to say, ‘I am who I am’ is a simple but extraordinarily difficult world view to grasp but I believe it’s what Jesus is saying to us. For it’s from that place off copying and loving ourself that we move beyond that and be of use in loving God back and others as ourselves.
And finally, who are the ‘misfits’ and how can I ‘invite’ them? That is a question we must continually bring before our Lord and Saviour. Surely in keeping on loving each other as brothers and sisters and showing hospitality to strangers and prisoners and those being mistreated, we will encounter Angels without realising it (Hebrews 13:1-2). Then will we be living in and toward the day of the coming of God’s kingdom of heaven on earth, where humility is one of it’s true marks.