A Perception of Humility
A few weeks ago, someone described Troy Villa to me for the first time. They explained the location, the poverty, and the assistance necessary for the adults and children that live there. I heard that this would be a great place for ministry. Families are financially poor, the children don’t have much, and it is an area that people tend to ignore. Life can be difficult for all of us, but especially for the poor and needy who are often referred to as ‘those people’ or ‘outsiders’.
I like the idea of ministry directed toward Troy Villa or any other scenario like it. But sometimes we see ministry as a one-way street, as if we have something they need but they have nothing to offer. I’m not talking about payment for services here. While our text just stated the importance of serving without expectation of repayment, we would be arrogant to think that we have nothing to learn from the people with whom ministry is shared. Because the people receiving our gifts are poor does not mean that they have nothing to teach us.
Therein lies one of the challenges with outreach ministries that send money and resources to the needy without our physical interaction. It is a perception that outreach ministry is simply defined as what we can do to help somebody else. That perception however, ignores the opportunities for us to learn lessons through them. I think sometimes we forget that Jesus said the poor and needy are first in the kingdom of God.
It is easy to think of the kingdom of God as something intellectual or hypothetical since life by human standards is defined by a different set of rules. In this world, it is the people with authority, power, money, and social status that take the lead. It is a different set of standards from the kingdom of God that Jesus ushered in with his incarnation. Luke is not speaking in fairytale language in today’s text…“once upon a time, in a land far, far away.” No, there is a literal and present kingdom that exists all around us, in which we are included.
In Luke 14, we are taught about the kingdom of God. Jesus is invited to a banquet in which there are people attempting to work their way into a seat of honor. His response is that one should not take the place of honor but take the lower place, otherwise understood as the servant’s seat. What does that mean in today’s world?
Usually we see assigned seats at the table of honor. Was Jesus simply stating the social tradition of the day where one should prevent personal embarrassment by sitting in a lower seat before moving up the ladder of honor? I suppose that is one way to translate the story. But we miss an important point if we only see verses 7-11 as lessons of etiquette in the text.
The ego is clever. If we were simply reading this text as a way to prevent embarrassment by sitting in the wrong position, the ego would strategize to move down to the lowest seat (the servant’s seat) not out of humility, but rather as a plan to move up to the seat of honor. The ego is narcissistic, ACTING humble while all along seeking it’s own glory. It would be like asking, “who considers themselves humble?” and watching hands go up. I’m sure you’ve met a few people in your lifetime who are more than happy to tell you just how humble they are, right?
After addressing the guests, Jesus turns to the host and asks, when inviting guests, are you intentionally inviting people who can repay you? Have any of you experienced that type of situation; where the host has invited you with an expectation that you will do something for them? I see it advertised all the time. Come join us for a free meal and learn about this new product. Yes you get the meal for free, but you don’t leave without feeling pressured to purchase a new product. Jesus has obviously taken notice of that type of manipulation in one form or another.
So he tells the host that he should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Look at verse 14, the last verse in today’s text, found in your Bibles or on the back of the bulletin. “And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Some people have translated this verse to mean that you will be blessed by repayment at the resurrection of the righteous. But that isn’t what the verse is saying. Invite the outsiders and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you. Then it goes on to say that you will be repaid at the resurrection. The blessing is hosting the meal for people who cannot repay. We will be blessed in their presence.
There is another detail that almost hides in these verses. Is the host told to send food to the ‘outsiders’? NO! The host sits at the same table and eats with them. Can you see where Jesus is going with this? In our efforts to reach out in ministry, we tend to send food and resources to places like Troy Villa. But Jesus is stretching our comfort
zones in this kingdom of God. Not only are we called to provide food and resources for the outsiders, but we are to sit at the same table and eat with them!
It is the poor and needy that Jesus called blessed in the Sermon on the Mount and who come first in the kingdom of God. We are not called to insulate ourselves from them. Jesus calls us to engage them, one-on-one, and to humble ourselves into their presence. We are not above any other human being. Jesus taught that the Shepherd would leave the 99 to find the one. We tend to see ourselves as the 99 and the poor and needy as the one. But do you want to hear a humbling paradox? As one contemporary theologian wrote, “I have a car. Eight percent of the people in the world have a car. Ninety-two percent of the people in the world see you and me driving in our cars…and they think, ‘Rich.” If we really think about that statement, 3then soon we begin to notice how it is not the poor and needy, but those of us who have enough and continue to desire more that fall into the category of the ‘one’ that Jesus goes out to find.
The truth is, in all of human history, it seems that we have always acted the same way. We are drawn to people who are like us and we keep our distance from those who are different. But thankfully, in all of human history, Jesus has also acted in his same way. Christ (who is the same yesterday, today, and forever) forgives us our sins of excess and covetousness and sends us out to do good and share with others. That is the sacrifice that pleases the God that has blessed us with so much.
Today we come to God’s table for his banquet meal, the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is the host, and who can repay Him? He has invited us to dinner through gracious ‘hospitality’, a word that literally means ‘love of a stranger’. A clear sign of acceptance, of recognizing each other as equals, and cementing fellowship, is breaking bread together. Today we humbly come forward from the lowest seat, invited forward into the forgiven place of honor, in the presence of our Savior and King, Jesus Christ. Amen.