"If we are showing those signs that are the Mark of the Christian, then we are not going to fall into the trap of an over-inflated ego, pride or arrogance"
Read Luke 14:1,7-14
Thomas Hardy, the author, was the sort of writer that any newspaper of his day would have been glad to accept anything he submitted for publication, and pay handsomely for the privilege, but now and then he would submit a poem, and include a stamped addressed envelope for the return of the manuscript should it be rejected.
What a wonderful example of humility! And that’s a running theme through this passage from Luke.
When Jesus told this story of the wedding feast, he wasn’t giving practical advice for social occasions, although there is a lot of common sense in that if unsure, it’s always better to chose a seat at a lower table and be invited up to the top one, then be asked quietly to move because you’re a little above your station.
So what’s Jesus trying to say, and how might it affect us today?
It’s actually a warning against pride and arrogance, pushing yourself forward in the sight of God. In Jesus’ day it was easy for those who were educated, maybe in the law, to think themselves superior to the poor and uneducated.
Later, but still in Luke’s lifetime there would be lots of non-Jews who had become Christians – think of it as walking into the dinner party prepared by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We know that many Jewish Christians found this difficult to accept (that God had invited outsiders to the party) and they openly, or inwardly, disapproved.
They thought they were the ones invited to sit at the top table, and hadn’t bargained on Jesus turning the tables (so to speak) on them. Pride and arrogance are dreadful things when they get in the way of relationships.
Many Jews couldn’t see their need of God’s grace and mercy, because they considered themselves to be chosen already by God to receive all that he had prepared for them by way of blessings, and this extended to thinking that those who were racially outsiders shouldn’t receive it anyway.
What did we learn from the passage in Hebrews about the Marks of a Christian? It involved that thing called brotherly love, and to that it added hospitality! It had nothing to do with pride or arrogance but an outward show of love and grace!
How do we avoid pride and embrace humility, if that’s what is expected of us?
This carries over into all aspects of our lives, and connects back to the Hebrews reading about being content with what we have, and have been given, whether it’s wealth or a particular talent or ability. Because if we are, then it allows space for God to work with us and bless us, and others, further.
Those who think they are already perfect, leave God no room to manoeuvre.
Jesus adds a little to our parable when he turns to the person who had invited him to a meal, and who may well have been a wealthy individual, and tells him that when he throws a party he shouldn’t be thinking about all the posh folk and local celebrities that he could invite, but rather he should be inviting the poor, lame and blind, because they can’t afford to repay the invitation.
Now that’s a strange one! But Jesus liked to provoke a little thought in his listeners and often resorted to hyperbole or exaggeration to make a point.
The ex Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright says that he preached on this passage once, and over the next few days he and his wife received dinner invitations from at least 3 people who had been in the service - but he never got around to asking what category of guest they were presumed to fall into.
But this is still a word about pride! Why do we give, of money, energy, talent or time? Some do purely out of self interest – if I do this then someone will do something for me. It could be trying to collect spiritual brownie points from God!
Some give in order to display their wealth. Nuff said!
Others give because it’s in their nature, in their DNA if you like. This is the giving that Jesus is on about here – giving without expecting anything in return. It’s this type of giving for which Jesus says, "and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.."
I heard a doctor on the radio talk about an inner conviction that rather than sit in his posh private clinic in Sloan Square in London, he should be working 22 hour shifts day by day in the terrible condition in refugee camps in Darfur. He couldn’t explain why, and hated it when people praised him for his efforts. I think that’s what Jesus meant by giving!
If we are showing those signs that are the Mark of the Christian, then we are not going to fall into the trap of an over-inflated ego, pride or arrogance.
If in our daily lives we practice hospitality, give generously of that which we have, demonstrate that brotherly or sisterly love to others, and are content with that which God has given us, then not only will others take notice and want to know what it is that makes the difference in our lives, but we will also bring a smile to the face of God!