Humility

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ (Luke 14: 7-14)

*************

What I know about humility, I learned first as an eldest son – eventually, I discovered I needed humility as a parent too.   The lessons are different; as a teenager, I was reminded that “I didn’t know everything yet”, and it seemed no time at all until, as a parent, I was putting my children’s needs before my own.  Of course as a parent, I am constantly reminded that I don’t know anything about what those needs are – for they are constantly changing.  As a parent (and a son) I’ve long accepted this as the state of things.  I don’t mean to brag about my humility (that would be ironic) – but I’ve recognized these traits in others and compared their stories to my own journey, and in the cycle of these ordinary family relationships, I see opportunities to apply the lessons Jesus gives us in this morning’s gospel.

When Jesus talks about humility in Luke’s gospel, he suggests that there is a cycle of humility that might just be contagious – a ripple that turns the tide of self-interest and self-importance that can keep us from being the people God calls us to be.

Now, the problem with humility is that it sounds too much like humiliation; and while the two words come from the same latin root, they describe very different conditions in our day.  Humiliation is not something we go looking for – it finds us.  It’s usually public, it’s always awkward, and the memory lingers.  It can be as innocent as a messed up presentation at work or in school; it can come from a joke gone wrong.  Humiliation leaves us with stories we can tell about why we hate public speaking, or why we don’t feel like dancing, or why we never sing in public.  But humility is something we are encouraged to pursue.

“‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour…”  This is a choice we must make, fully aware of the setting.  We need to know ‘who’s who’, and should assume that someone else’s needs are more important than ours.  Make the wrong choice, Jesus says, and you may be humiliated – asked to make way for more important guests.  Give the host a chance to ‘move you up’ to the head of the table – don’t honour yourself, let others honour you.

Now – if the parable were all we had, we would be resigned to a passive life; a life of waiting to be seated well – a life of dependence on the generosity of others – and maybe that is a good metaphor for a life of faith; totally dependant on the provision of God; waiting to be “moved up the table” at the invitation of our Host.  But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He knows that this life involves guest and host duties – humility is needed on both sides of the equation.  Passive humility is too often misunderstood – seen as weakness or cowardice.  The host needs to reach out in the right way, and Jesus shows him how: “ when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you…”

Humble yourself when you are the guest – and humble yourself by exalting your guests.  Express humility from both sides of the table – in all of life’s situations.  This parable offers us a glimpse into the kind of relationship that God desires with us, both personally and collectively as Christ’s church.

It would be easy to offer examples of the lack of humility; we’ve all encountered those, and having learned lessons of humility as a parent and son, I’m now relearning those lessons as your minister – but I’m learning them in terms of this parable, and the question for all of us is this; What does the church look like when it lives out this parable?

It would be a church that does not serve itself.  A church that accepted the notion that 20% of the people do 80% of the work because that is what good hosts do – devote themselves to the needs of others.  It would be a church that concentrated on those who ‘could not repay’ (or help pay) for the work that needs to be done.  It would be less concerned with ‘bottom line’ things, and entirely concerned with front line questions like poverty and injustice; compassion and generosity.  The church that lives out this parable would give us a first hand look at the kingdom of God, where the weak are strong, and the foolish are wise.  It is an honourable pursuit – and it requires that we walk the fine line between humility and humiliation – for there are some who imagine such service as failure or folly.  But this is what brings us close to the heart of God – to heal the broken-hearted; to lift up the fallen; to honour humble poor, and so give God glory by our humble service.

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: