The Devil's Peak in the dusk, 2014, looking south from the Hawker Road.

Success or Contentment?

Bible: Luke 14:1-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ 4But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ 6And they could not reply to this.

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. 8‘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; 9and 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. 10But 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. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

12 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. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

Sermon

I remember going to visit my 94 year old Grandma.  When we got to the old folks home, Grandma was nowhere to be seen.  It turns out that after breakfast and getting dressed, she used to go off down the corridor and help the old folks.

People like my grandma seem to me to have made a discovery. The have found a contentment which is independent of their status or possessions. Grandma was old, frail, poor as a church mouse.... and happy. She was possessed of a generosity and a freedom of worry about herself.  I don't mean that she had no worries or concerns or struggles, but that she was content.

This is not a thing to be taken lightly. It is not about being old and on a pension and in a good aged care facility. It is not guaranteed.  I have met old folk who were far better off than Grandma, and who were bitter and miserable.

I want to end up something like my Grandma.

What I don't want to do is get to the point where I realise I have wasted my life. How would it feel to get very old and realise we had wasted it all?

I don't mean to get old and have regrets, or unfinished business. We've all got that. But to feel, to realise, that we had completely stuffed it up.. That we've spent our whole life trying to get to Melbourne when we should have been heading to Perth. We've worked and struggled and saved and schemed all our lives but what we've got is worthless. It's dust and ashes in our mouth. Suddenly we see with an awful clarity that we have been aiming at the wrong thing, and now it's too late to do anything else. We might not have any vision of where we should have gone- we just know where we have ended up  is a dead end, no point to it failure. I don't want to end up there.

One of the things Jesus was really quite strong on was the idea of success. He kept making statements like these:

The first will be last, and the last will be first.
The one who saves their life will lose it and the one who loses their life will save it.

and in the reading today he says:

For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

He was determined to upset our ideas of success and status, and to make us think about what was really important.

He takes this even further in a story in Matthew 6.

Do not stand up and practice your piety in front of others in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your father in heaven. ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

As you will remember, he says the same thing about praying in public.  He says about people who used to make a show of praying in public, “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.”

We heard this same idea in today's reading.

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. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ (Luke 14:12-14)

Let's hear what the scholars say about meals in Jesus' time.

Bill Loader says

Meals are too easily obtained by most of us for us to appreciate their major role in the ancient world. Group meals, whether wedding banquets or communal meals, were an important community event….  Among the ‘rules’ for common meals of this kind we often find correct order of seating. There is a place for the most important and the least important and everyone in between…  We may smile at those people who always insist on sitting in the same pews or seats in church. But in the ancient world, place was guarded by most even more jealously. Society was strongly hierarchical. There was a place on the ladder. For many it was a matter of survival to make sure they either stayed where they were or climbed higher. Position was not just a matter of individual achievement. It was a community value. It was in some sense given by the group. Your value was inseparable from what others thought about you. Most to be feared was to lose your place, to be embarrassed, to be publicly humiliated by having to take a lower place. Losing face could not be shrugged off as easily as for many of us who have grown up in a strongly individualistic culture. Losing face was almost like losing one’s life….

Tannehill continues…

Jesus' instructions in verses 12-14 conflict with this social function of dinners. It might be a source of honor for someone to give charity to the poor, but it is quite another thing to invite them to a social function in place of family and people of wealth, and eat with them. By doing this, the host is dishonoring family and rich neighbors and in their place is honoring the poor; or, in the eyes of the elite, the host is dishonoring himself by identifying with the poor. Therefore, verse 11 may apply to what follows as well as to what precedes. Those who invite family and people of status are exalting themselves by proclaiming their place in this group. Those who invite the poor and crippled are humbling themselves. [p. 230]

Can you see that what Jesus was effectively telling his host to commit social suicide?  He was telling his host to do exactly the wrong thing for success in the eyes of the world.

And understand this: He wasn't talking about being the kind of host who was giving up being a Bill Gates or a Gerry Harvey type of social success. He was talking about being the kind of person that the ordinary people like you and me would not like. He is telling us that if we want to be among the resurrection of the righteous, then we should be keeping the kind of company that will make the nice people in our street, and even in our church, avoid us.

He said the the host, “Invite these people:  invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” In our society we don't see how radical that intsruction was.  In his society, these were the people everyone thought they knew God did not like. They were the ones God was punishing with poverty and ill health.  One religious group at Qumran actually said these people could not be members:

And let no person smitten with any human impurity whatever enter the Assembly of God. And every person smitten with these impurities, unfit to occupy a place in the midst of the Congregation, and every (person) smitten in his flesh, paralyzed in his feet or hands, lame or blind or deaf, or dumb or smitten in his flesh with a blemish visible to the eye, or any aged person that totters and is unable to stand firm in the midst of the Congregation: let these persons not enter." [1QSa 2:3-8, quoted by Culpepper (Luke, New Interpreters Bible, p. 287)]

Jesus is telling us to invite into our homes and to our meals, the people we don't like to have in church.

And if we pause to think about it, since we are speaking about meals, he is telling us to invite these people to communion... to church... to be a part of us here... all the people we might  not want to have here!

Now we started out with my Granny, and we've ended up with the kind of people we invite to church.  What's the connection?  Let me try and link this together, because in all this is an amazing secret.

Luke has Jesus saying

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.’

What is the resurrection of the righteous?  One traditional interpretation of this expression of Jesus is that these are the people who make it into heaven. That means we want to be among those people!

Real success in life is to be saved, we might say. You want to be saved? Well, it's not about money or status. It's about getting to heaven, so to do that, follow Jesus and “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.”

But the kingdom of God is also now! Now. I reckon real success in life is to be like my Grandma was... to be free and content. You want to be happy like that, and not end up feeling like you wasted life? Well, “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.”

Now here is the secret.  You see, we can read this part of the gospel with the eyes of what we might call enlightened spiritual self interest. This is the way to work our our salvation. This is the way to take the gift of our life and live as a good Christian. It might be hard work to live with people who are different to us. But it will put us in the right with God. It gets very close to working our way into heaven.

But when we do this, what we are doing is repenting. We are turning from our human self-centered way of life to living God's way. And it sets us free. We open ourselves to the gits of God. We will find that status doesn't matter as much. God gives us a measure of resurrection now. We find that what worries the world is something we are beginning to become free of. We become... we move in the direction of... those legendary Grandmas and Grandpas and other people who we look up to because we recognise they are free. They not only act as a sign of the freedom of salvation of God. They become our fellows. We join them. We are among them.

Salvation is not only gift... and promise... it becomes real and actual now! Amen


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