Luke 14:1, 7-14
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.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and 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. But 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 honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
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 neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But 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.”
Little Johnny was having a tough day in his fourth grade math class which ended with him standing toe-to-toe with his teacher who did not look at all pleased. Behind them was the blackboard covered with math problems that Johnny hadn’t been able to finish. With rare perception Johnny said, “I’m not an underachiever, you’re an overexpecter!”
Little Johnny is almost always a wisenheimer. He is an expert at turning any situation to his own advantage; however, he may have been onto something here, because there are overexpecters in the world and often they turn their own expectations on others. Take for example the parent who vicariously lives through their child and tirelessly pushes them to succeed even when there is no enjoyment in the exercise for the child. Or the employer who demands everything, but instead of assisting an employee to succeed they set them up to fail—these are overexpecters.
We can also be overexpecters of ourselves. Take for example some of those poor folks on America’s Got Talent – have you seen this one? My goodness, my silly dog can sing and dance better than some of those folks. I will give then credit for courage though.
Our Gospel reading today also speaks of overexpecters, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and 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.” It’s a bit like when James and John requested to sit at the right and left hand side of Jesus when he comes into his kingdom. They were overexpecters of themselves, which falls into our discussion a few weeks ago about how humility is truth – the truth about who we are and who God is.
Today, Jesus teaches us how to avoid such situations, “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 honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.” It is a good lesson that can be applied to many aspects of our lives. However, when it comes to our relationship with God, I don’t know that many are actually overexpecters of themselves. When I was considering our text, I wasn’t really struck by the seating order. What resinated with me was the wedding banquet and more specifically the invitation to the wedding banquet. I don’t know about you, but I’m not so concerned about where I’ll be seated. More often, my concern is whether or not I’ll even get invited!
What if you received an invitation? Let’s say that it was miraculously delivered to you by an angel and the invitation was to join Jesus at a banquet. Not only that, but you were going to receive the seat of honor at his right hand, just like James and John had requested. Do you take it? Do you feel worthy to sit at the right hand of God? Are you someone deserving of such an honor?
In our relationship with God most of us are not overexpecters. If that invitation arrived, we wouldn’t go prancing around the post office declaring that Jesus has finally recognized what we had known all along. Instead, only an arrogant few would think they deserved that seat of honor, a few more might think they could at least get in and sit at the kids’ table, but most… most would believe that they were unworthy to have even been invited. Everyone always talks about that mansion in the sky, pearly gates and the golden streets, but there are days that I think that if I can just get a cot in some dark room in the basement, I’ll be happy. But that is not how it works, because we are all invited. Yes, we must have humility so that we can recognize our need for God’s grace, but there must also be a willingness to accept that grace.
George Herbert, the Caroline divine and great Anglican poet, felt this same unworthiness and wrote a poem with the simple title “Love” where he expressed it. In the poem, “Love” is the name Herbert gives to Jesus.
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d any thing.
“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
Jesus invites him into the banquet, yet in his perceived unworthiness he believes that he cannot accept, “I am so unworthy that I cannot even look at you.” Jesus asked, “Who made your eyes?” “You Lord, but I have tainted them with my sin. Send me where I deserve.” “I could,” says Jesus, “but I have redeemed you. I have made you worthy to enter into the joy of the Lord. Come and eat.” And so he did. He accepted the Lord’s invitation. He accepted the Lord’s grace.
Think of the parable of the prodigal son: The young man decides he wants to live on his own, so he asked and received from his father his inheritance. He goes off to a distant land and squanders it all. With nothing left he was starving, so he goes to work for a landowner feeding pigs and wishes that he could at least eat some of the food that he was feeding the pigs. So he says to himself, “I will go home to my father, because there even the hired hands eat well.” As he draws closer to his father’s house, his father sees him. He rushes out to greet his son, but the son declares, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” How does the father respond? “You’re right! Get out of my sight you miserable ingrate.” No. He ordered that the finest robe be put on his son.. and a ring.. and shoes. He ordered a feast with music and dancing. Why? “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.”
The son had to humble himself and return to his father, but not only that, he also had to receive the grace his father was extending to him in order to return – not as a slave – but as a son. If he had persisted in his insistence of unworthiness he could not have returned as a son, but not only that, can you imagine the sadness the father would have experienced had he not been able to love his son as he so desired?
We are like the son. We are not worthy to sit at the table with Jesus, yet he invites us all, because through his redeeming work on the Cross, we are made worthy. Worthy to be called the sons and daughters of the Living God.
In his poem “Love,” George Herbert says, “Love took my hand.” Jesus took his hand desiring to lead him into the feast, into the joy of the Lord, and Herbert allowed him. Today, love has taken your hand and his greatest desire is to lead you also into the feast and the joy of the Lord. You have been made worthy. Accept it. Accept the invitation.
Our gospel reading today ended at Luke 14:14. I was a bit disappointed when I saw verse 15, because I thought it should have been included. It says, “When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’” — You are the ones being spoken of. You are the ones that are blessed. God’s grace is extended to you. All you must do is accept it and enter into the joy prepared for you by your Father in Heaven.