Living in the World
In his parables and throughout his ministry, Jesus shows us a way of life, life as it is supposed to be lived, life as it will be lived in God’s kingdom. Our task is to apply Jesus’ vision of Christian life to our world and to our lives. It is as if Jesus holds up a mirror to help us see our lives for what they are, the good and the bad, the ways we do right and the areas where we have plenty of room for improvement.
That is always our task. But in our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus gives us a little extra help. Jesus himself draws the contrast between the Christian way and the normal way of the world.
The worldly way is to seek seats of honor at banquets when we are guests. Or, if we are the host of the banquet, the worldly way is to invite the rich and powerful, the people who enhance our status simply by being at our homes, the people who can give us even more status by inviting us into their homes. Self-promotion is the way of the world.
Jesus’ way, by contrast, is to take the lowest seat at a banquet when we are guests, and, when we are hosts, to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind—people who can’t give us status or pay us back.
The contrast of the two ways is clear. But using banquets as the illustration to draw the contrast has never really spoken to me. I don’t attend banquets where status is determined by seating, and I certainly don’t host them. My guess is, that is true for most of you, too. As a result, I have usually read over this passage without paying much attention to it.
But this week, our passage hit me with more force. Jesus is talking to us. After all, we in contemporary America are all about pursuing our interests, about self-promotion, about profitable exchanges.
We can see it everywhere, all around us. But the challenge is to identify it in our own lives. What came to my mind was my son’s job search.
Benjamin graduated from college last spring. In the months leading up to his graduation, his mother and I were not convinced Benjamin was doing all he needed to be doing to get his first real job. So over Christmas, we demanded that he show us his resume. He did, and it was terrible. We should have just insisted that he show it to a career counselor. Instead, we tried to work with him to fix it. As you can imagine, that didn’t go well!
We told Benjamin to think of all the things he had done that might possibly make him look attractive to a potential employer. We told him to spiff up his descriptions of the jobs he has had to make them sound better.
At one point, Benjamin worried that we were misrepresenting what he had in fact done. In one of my poorer parenting moments, I told him it didn’t matter. The goal of the resume was to get a job. A resume shouldn’t be totally false, of course. But in a resume, you spin the truth. Resumes are most definitely not a place for modesty, even where modesty might be truer to the facts.
Eventually we gave up, Benjamin went to a career counselor who hopefully gave him better advice than I did, and he got a job that he likes.
But we’re not done. Nicholas is just starting his junior year at college, and the last thing I said to him before he left on Tuesday was, “Be thinking about what you want to do when you graduate so that you can get ready.” I am sure he heard that with dread!
So, here is how I might restate Jesus’ parable in terms that apply more directly to the life of my family.
When you are applying for jobs, don’t puff up your resume to make yourself look better than you are because someone might check and you will be rejected. Instead, approach potential employers acknowledging your limitations and weaknesses, and hope that they see your strengths on their own. And in your job search, don’t try to take advantage of any connections you have. Your focus should be on the people who can’t offer you anything.
Put like that, Jesus’ parable sounds crazy to any parent with children in college!
Our culture, and probably every culture, is built around the idea that we should do everything we can to get ahead. And that is what I want for my children. I don’t want them to lie, cheat, or steal. But I want Benjamin to advance in his new career. I want Nicholas to get a job when he graduates. I want them to make sure that the people around them who can advance their interests are well aware of their accomplishments.
But the kind of self-promotion that helps people prosper in the business world is not what Jesus teaches in our reading. Jesus teaches a different way, a way of humility and loving self-sacrifice.
As Christian people, this is a dilemma we have to wrestle with. We want the good things of our world, and we want the good news of Jesus Christ. We have to live in the world as it is. And we are called to live in the world as Christians.
There is no easy answer. But Jesus’ parable can help us to see the dilemma a little more clearly. And Jesus’ parable can help us to put it in perspective.
So back to Jesus’ parable. But this time, let’s think about the wedding feast as the heavenly banquet with God as the host. What is our rightful place at God’s banquet? We’re outside. We are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. We have nothing to offer God.
The good news is that Christ, the heavenly bridegroom himself, leaves the wedding banquet, comes outside to find us, and invites us in. Christ gives us a place at the heavenly banquet. We get to join the festivities thanks to the grace and love of God, grace and love that we can never repay.
Let’s keep going. There we are in God’s banquet. How would it look if we started competing for better seats or trying to exclude other guests as somehow unworthy?
Now bring it back here, to Saint David’s this morning. In a minute, we will share Eucharist. We will gather around God’s altar and join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to commune with Christ’s body and blood, to participate in a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. We are here thanks to God’s grace and love.
When the service ends, we will go back into the world. But having tasted God’s grace and love, we should go into the world filled with humble gratitude. Receiving God’s grace and love should make a difference in how we live, how we treat others.
The test of our faith comes in the day to day interactions of our lives.
I still want my children to prosper, of course.
But I hope and pray that as they make their way in the world, they never lose sight of God’s grace and love. I pray that when they are tempted by the way of the world, they will choose Christ’s way. I pray that they will always remember that they are God’s beloved children, and that they will live like it. I pray the same for all of us.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan