Humility and Hospitality
Luke 14:1, 7-14

I wonder if this text could be used as justification for the existence of the Tall Poppy Syndrome?  You know what I mean, that thing that Aussies do where we want to take down the most successful business or sportsperson just because they are successful?  We claim Tall Poppy Syndrome as being uniquely Australian but apparently it has been around since the time of Aristotle, so we can hardly claim it can we? 

Tall Poppy Syndrome is based around jealousy, where we are envious of someone’s rise or claim to fame and want to tear them down a peg or two.  One of the TV news shows took great pleasure in showing a politician at last week’s election trying to jump the queue to vote.  Whether or not it was a legitimate story is beside the point, they wanted us to see him being put in his place and sent to the back of the line by an everyday person, because that would make us all feel better about having had to stand in lines during the day to vote.  Isn’t it sad that we seem to have to experience someone else’s demise to make us feel good?

It seems that the Pharisees were looking for a way to cut Jesus down too.  He was a new kid on the block and hadn’t earned his stripes yet, so they were watching him closely as he was eating a meal with them.  They didn’t miss an opportunity to put him to the test, to cut down this potential tall poppy.  If they cut him down, maybe they would feel more important and be affirmed in their status and knowledge.  In this story though, as in the one we had last week, Jesus comes out in front.  He gave them an example of how to conduct themselves when invited to a wedding banquet.

The protocol sounds familiar to us doesn’t it?  When you arrive at a dinner party or banquet with numerous guests these days there is usually someone at the door with a list of names and a map of the tables to point you in the right direction.  You are probably secretly hoping that you will be sitting with the right people so that it’s an enjoyable night and that you can get a good view of the proceedings.  When I went to the Debutante Ball early this year I had my back to the dance floor and wound up with a bit of a sore neck by the end of the night!  We usually have places allocated and place cards in front of each dinner setting to keep it simple. 

The protocol back in the day though was that everyone knew their rightful place in society.  Your place was decided by wealth, birth, order of birth, it decided what you wore and the way food was distributed.  Social standing dictated almost every aspect of their lives.  So when it came to a banquet there were no exceptions.  If you were to come to a party like that and sit in the place of honour, you would only do so if it was your right.  To sit in a place to which you had no claim to was to open yourself up to humiliation and embarrassment and no-one wants to go there. 

In speaking to them about protocols that they were familiar with Jesus was warning them not only about having good manners, but he was describing the difference between life in the everyday world and life in the kingdom of God.

There is a big difference between the two, in the world there is social order that can’t be messed with, but in God’s kingdom you had better be prepared for some upheaval.  In order to be exalted, that is, praised and given honour in God’s kingdom you must humble yourself.  That can be fairly hard to do though can’t it?  Our egos usually want to be stroked, we want to hear how good we are or how important we are, especially those of us who need words of affirmation spoken to us to feel loved or edified, and we want to be shown the place of honour so that we feel good about ourselves.

Jesus warns that in his Kingdom things are different.  Then he adds some more to the explanation.  Not only did he give a warning to the invited guests, but he gave a list whom to invite to the banquet.  The logical people to invite are friends, relatives and neighbours, they are the ones you know and love and want to share hospitality with.  Maybe because they are the ones who can pay you back, but also because they are the ones you will feel most comfortable with.  But that isn’t going to get us out of our comfort zones is it?

Jesus says, go out and invite people who can’t possibly be expected to invite you in return and therefore repay you for your kindness and hospitality.  Now there’s a tough direction to take.  But when you think about it, whenever you invite a friend or neighbour over for a meal or a party, even to swim in your pool or play your computer games, there is an underlying and unwritten protocol in place that you should return the favour.  There is a sense of obligation.  We want to show that we can do the same for them in return.  And that’s not entirely wrong either, but the point being made here is that by asking someone who can’t repay you means that you are giving them a true gift, not a means of bartering.

Why does Jesus do this, it’s fairly obvious, but I will explain it any way.  The gift that Jesus gave us and was going to give those gathered at the meal he was at was a gift that they couldn’t possibly repay.  He was inviting them to the heavenly feast, the festal gathering that we heard about in our first reading last week.  The only way to get an invite to that is through him.  Not by our position in society or in the church, not by the good works that we do or through our own personal piety.  We can only receive a place at the table through him.  We can never hope to repay him what it cost him for our place at the meal.  This isn’t a $100 a head wedding reception.  This is eternal life, the only price that could be paid for that was his life, and he paid it for us, there is no way we can possibly pay him back for that.  We can’t invite him to a feast at our place, because by the time we are sharing it with him in heaven, there won’t be any turning back!

By then there won’t be any Tall Poppy Syndrome to worry about, there won’t be any need to humble ourselves or exalt ourselves.  We will be living in true humility, forever grateful for the invitation given to us and the gift that he has given us – eternal life, a party to end all parties and you are invited.  Praise the Lord!