The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 14:1, 7-14

AT FIRST READING, THE LITTLE PARABLE THAT JESUS TELLS ABOUT HOW TO SEAT YOURSELF AT A WEDDING BANQUET SOUNDS A BIT LIKE SOMETHING FROM AN ADVICE COLUMN ON PROPER ETIQUETTE, BUT IN REALITY A WHOLE LOT MORE IS GOING ON HERE THAN ONE MIGHT THINK. ALTHOUGH WHAT HE SAYS IS GROUNDED IN FIRST CENTURY CULTURE, IT HAS VAST IMPLICATIONS FOR US TODAY. IN THE FIRST CENTURY, STATUS WAS CRITICAL, AND WHERE YOU SAT, OR RECLINED, AT A FEAST DEFINED YOUR STATUS IN THE COMMUNITY. IT WAS IMPORTANT HOW OTHER PEOPLE THOUGHT ABOUT YOU, AND THAT HAD SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES FOR YOUR LIFE. STATUS DETERMINED THE FEASIBILITY OF A GOOD MARRIAGE CONTRACT, AND GOOD CONNECTIONS FOR BUSINESS. IT WAS TRULY A MATTER OF WHO YOU KNEW, AND WHAT THEY THOUGHT ABOUT YOU, THAT COULD MAKE YOUR LIFE BETTER OR WORSE. THE MOST RESPECTED WOULD RECLINE CLOSEST TO THE HOST IN PLACES OF HONOR, AND THE FARTHER AWAY FROM THE HOST YOU WERE, THE LESS RESPECTED AND HONORED YOU WERE.

THE INVITATION TO DINE AT THE PHARISEES’ HOUSE WAS NOT REALLY AN INTENT TO HONOR JESUS; THE HOST, AND THE OTHERS, WERE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING THAT JESUS WOULD SAY OR DO THAT WOULD TRIP HIM UP. THE FACT THAT JESUS COULD WATCH THE OTHER GUESTS SCURRYING AROUND TO GET THE BEST PLACES IMPLIES THAT NO PLACE WAS RESERVED FOR HIM AND HIS DISCIPLES, SO THEY WERE LEFT WITH ONLY THE CHEAP SEATS AT THE END OF THE TABLE. IT WAS KIND OF LIKE GONG TO A WEDDING AND LOOKING AT THE SEATING CHART TO FIND YOU HAVE BEEN SEATED AT THE KIDS TABLE. SO JESUS TELLS THE GUESTS THAT THEY SHOULDN’T GRAB THE SEATS OF HONOR, BECAUSE THE HOST MIGHT MAKE YOU GET UP AND GIVE YOUR PLACE TO SOMEONE HE RESPECTS MORE, THEN YOU WILL HAVE TO MAKE A WALK OF SHAME TO THE LOWEST PLACE. TAKE THE LOWEST PLACE, HE SAYS, SO THAT WHEN THE HOST COMES IN AND SEES YOU, HE MIGHT JUST MOVE YOU UP TO A BETTER SEAT AND HONOR YOU IN FRONT OF EVERYONE.

WHEN I WAS THE COMMANDANT OF THE CHAPLAIN SCHOOL, I WOULD REGULARLY RECEIVE INVITATIONS TO THE CHANGE OF COMMAND CEREMONIES FOR ALL THE OTHER SCHOOLS. THEY WERE ALL COMMANDED BY GENERALS, AND I WAS A LOWLY COLONEL, SO I WOULD USUALLY SEND MY REGRETS AND AVOID HAVING TO SIT WITH THE MOVERS AND SHAKES WITH ALL THOSE STARS. I’M SURE THEY REALLY MISSED ME. WHEN LIEUTENANT GENERAL DON HOLDER WAS APPOINTED AS COMMANDER OF FT. LEAVENWORTH, I DECIDED TO ATTEND AT THE LAST MINUTE, SINCE I HAD KNOWN HIM WHEN I WAS A CAPTAIN, AND HAD FOLLOWED HIS CAREER. WE WERE NOT GREAT FRIENDS, BUT HE HAD ALWAYS IMPRESSED ME AS A MODEL OFFICER, AND I WAS GREATLY IMPRESSED WHEN I READ HOW HE TOOK THE 11TH ARMORED CAVALRY REGIMENT THROUGH A SAND STORM TO ATTACK AND DEFEAT THE IRAQI REPUBLICAN GUARDS ARMORED DIVISION WITHOUT THE LOSS OF A SINGLE AMERICAN SOLDIER. I CAME TO THE CEREMONY JUST TO OBSERVE THE HONOR BEING GIVEN TO A MAN I RESPECTED, SO I GOT TO THE PARADE GROUND AND SAT IN THE BLEACHERS BECAUSE I DIDN’T HAVE A RESERVED SEAT. JUST BEFORE THE START OF THE CEREMONY, I HEARD SOMEONE SAY, “CHAPLAIN, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” I LOOKED DOWN AND SAW IT WAS GENERAL HOLDER. I STOOD UP AND SAID, “SIR, I JUST WANTED TO SHARE THE JOY OF THIS DAY FOR YOU.” “NO,” HE SAID, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING SITTING HERE?” HE GRABBED MY ARM AND PULLED ME OUT OF THE BLEACHERS, AND IF YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN MANHANDLED BY A GENERAL IN FRONT OF A LARGE CROWD I CAN TELL YOU IT IS QUITE AN EXPERIENCE. HE PULLED ME TO THE FRONT ROW, WHERE ALL THE STARS WERE SEATED, SO EVERYONE HAD TO STAND UP FOR HIM, PUT ME IN A SEAT AND SAID, “YOU SIT HERE, AND THANK YOU FOR COMING,” AT WHICH THE EYEBROWS OF ALL THE STARS WERE RAISED.

WHILE THIS MIGHT SEEM TO BE THE KIND THING JESUS ADVISED THE DINNER GUESTS, HE REALLY MEANS SOMETHING MUCH MORE IMPORTANT, AND MUCH MORE RADICAL. HIS USE OF A WEDDING BANQUET AS THE CONTEXT FOR THE PARABLE IMPLIES ESCHATOLOGICAL OVERTONES, AS THE WEDDING BANQUET IS A FREQUENT METAPHOR FOR THE FULLNESS OF GOD’S KINGDOM. HE IS NOT SIMPLY GIVING PRACTICAL ADVICE ON HOW TO MAKE YOURSELF LOOK HUMBLE AND BE REWARDED BY YOUR HOST, RATHER HE IS SARCASTICALLY RECOMMENDING FALSE HUMILITY TO POINT OUT HOW THE KINGDOM OF GOD OVERTURNS ALL THE DISTINCTIONS OF PLACE AND HONOR WE THINK ARE SO IMPORTANT. FOR THE GREAT WEDDING FEAST TO COME, “ALL WHO EXALT THEMSELVES WILL BE HUMBLED, AND THOSE WHO HUMBLE THEMSELVES WILL BE EXALTED.”

WHEN HE ADDRESSES HIS HOST, HE REINFORCES THIS TURNING OVER THE TABLES OF SOCIAL CONVENTION. WHEN YOU GIVE A LUNCHEON OR DINNER PARTY, HE TELLS HIS HOST, DON’T INVITE YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS, OR YOUR RICH NEIGHBOR, BECAUSE THEY WILL INVITE YOU IN TURN AND YOU WILL BE REWARDED. THIS QUID PRO QUO WAS THE BASIS OF SOCIAL LIFE ON WHICH THE STATUS AND HONOR OF THE HOST AND GUESTS RESTED. HE DISMISSES THIS ALL AS VANITY AND PRIDE, AND SAYS TO INVITE THE POOR, THE CRIPPLED, THE LAME, AND THE BLIND, BECAUSE THEY CAN’T REPAY YOU, AND BECAUSE THEY CAN’T REPAY YOU, YOU WILL BE BLESSED BECAUSE YOU WILL BE REPAID IN HEAVEN.

JESUS TELLS THE GUESTS, AND HIS HOST, THAT ALL THEIR EMPHASIS ON PLACE AND HONOR, ALL THE PECKING ORDERS OF THIS LIFE, ARE ABSOLUTELY MEANINGLESS, AND ARE NOT OF GOD, AND HE INVITES THEM ALL TO TURN THEIR SOCIAL CONVENTIONS UPSIDE DOWN AND LIVE THE VERY UNCONVENTIONAL LIFE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. THIS RADICAL REORDERING OF LIFE AND ITS PRIORITIES IS A CONDEMNATION OF THEIR SOCIETY, THEIR CULTURE, AND EVEN, AT ITS HEART, THEIR PRACTICE OF THEIR FAITH. IT IS NO WONDER THAT JESUS ENRAGED THEM TO THE POINT THAT THEY WANTED HIM DEAD AND GONE.

THIS UNCONVENTIONAL WAY OF LIVING IS THE WAY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. IT THROWS US INTO A RADICAL AND COMPLETE DEPENDENCE ON GOD’S GRACE, AND ON GOD’S GRACE ALONE. NOTHING MATTERS EXCEPT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD, AND ALL OUR WEALTH, STATUS, POSITION, POWER, INTELLIGENCE, OR WHERE WE ARE ON THE CURRENT PECKING ORDER MEANS NOTHING AT ALL. THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO EARN GOD’S FAVOR, EXCEPT TO RELY AND TRUST IN GOD’S DESIRE TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH US AND WITH ALL PEOPLE. NOTHING WE ARE OR DO CAN GIVE US A CLAIM ON GOD IN WHICH WE CAN EXPECT REPAYMENT, RATHER IT MEANS THAT GOD HAS CLAIMED US, AND HE INVITES US TO LOVE OTHERS AS HE HAS LOVED US.

IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THERE IS NO DISTINCTION OF STATUS OR HONOR, FOR HE LOVES US ALL EQUALLY, AND WE ALL STAND BEFORE HIM AS BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF ONE ANOTHER BY HIS GRACE IN CHRIST JESUS. THE RESPECT AND HONOR WE GIVE TO OUR BISHOP OR PRIEST MUST BE THE SAME WE GIVE TO THE LITTLE CHILDREN AMONG US, AND TO POOR AND THE HOMELESS WHO HOLD OUT THEIR TRAYS FOR FOOD AT “LET’S HELP.” WHAT WE DO FOR OTHERS, AS WE LIVE THIS KINGDOM LIFE, IS NEVER IN EXPECTATION OF REPAYMENT, NOT EVEN A “THANK YOU,” BUT MUST BE DONE IN THE TRUE HUMILITY OF KNOWING THAT WITHOUT THE GRACE OF GOD WE WOULD BE LOST. YET GOD HAS CLAIMED US FOR HIS OWN, AND IN GOD’S GRACE WE MUST, AND WE CAN, SHOW HIS LOVE AND GRACE TO EACH OTHER, AND TO ALL OF HIS CHILDREN AND HIS CREATION. THIS IS THE RADICALLY UNCONVENTIONAL LIFE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD TO WHICH WE HAVE BEEN CALLED.
AMEN

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