Homily for 9.1.13
LUKE 14:1, 7-14
22nd Sunday in
The Lectionary Gospel reading for today reminds us that, for Jesus' first century hearers to be part of the Kingdom which Jesus himself embodied, they must first repent.
Clearly, if we are familiar with Holy Scriptures, we iimmediately understand repentance as one of the key concepts within the corpus of Jesus' teachings. As a prophet, Jesus no doubt picks up this theme from the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, as well as from John the Baptizer, but he brings the message forward in his ministry with a fine-honed edge for his hearers.
But, having said that, we must be careful here for the word repentance must still be interpreted. It still must be unpacked historically if it is to be understood. While personal repentance from one's sins is involved in Jesus' message of repentance, to be sure, there is much more to the word beneath the surface. So that, we must not assume we know just what the word means, or just what the word calls on Jesus' hears to do, and by extension just what we are called to do. For, as we shall present at the end of this homily, we must repent as well.
Therefore, as an opening window into the text, let us first take a moment to unpack the idea of repentance in the teachings of Jesus. To do this I am relying heavily upon the work of N.T. Wright, and especially his book, Jesus And The Victory of God. I have found his teaching in this regard to incredibly important in allowing Jesus to speak to us from his 1st century context.
For Jesus, the message of repentance he preached to his hearers meant that a most serious signal to return to GOD was being shared. And, this signal was not just a call to a personal or a moral act, but also included a profound eschatological act toward a national, Jewish restoration! This means, first and primarily, we must never forget that Jesus was Jewish and his message was for the House of Israel.
Jesus the prophet, who was also more than a prophet, was inviting his people -- the chosen people -- with urgency, to return to Israel's GOD. As such, his message was similar to that of the prophets of old. He was speaking and acting for YHWH, imploring the nation to receive the grace of GOD's restorative act that Jesus himself exemplified and embodied, all in face of the nation's swift, impending judgement.
This repentance, therefore, meant that the nation must turn from their rebellion and their bent on a nationalist violence. It meant that they must turn from "their way of being Israel to his way of being Israel." (Wright) At its heart the repentance that Jesus offered to all who had ears to hear meant, if accepted, it would demonstrate that they were part of the newly formed, reconstituted people of GOD, that they were the recipients of GOD's promised restoration and that they were the vindicated people of GOD.
Those who spurned this call to repentance, by comparison, would soon face the approaching whirlwind of devastating judgement, a judgement coming in the form of a national disaster perpetrated by the Romans, but understood by Jesus to actually be the judgment of the Almighty.
To say this another way, their willingness to repent meant that GOD would establish them as finally returning from exile.
The key questions at the heart of Jesus' ministry were always:
What does it mean to be part of GOD's coming Kingdom?
And who would be included?
In this regard, think about the conversion (this is another word to use with care) of Zacchaeus as a Lukean example. We will actually unpack this text in detail in November, the LORD willing, but, for now, if we read the account St. Luke offers us from the perspective I am describing, suddenly the narrative takes on a whole new meaning:
1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." 9 Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
Now, listen again to Jesus' pronouncement:
Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.
When was the last time the church pronounced a newcomer as an offspring of Abraham? Well...really...this would be quite accurate, but the point I am actually making here is, Zacchaeus the unaccepted sinner had become Zacchaeus the new and accepted member of the restored people of GOD. That is, the one not allowed to participate was now participating! This was shocking!
But, don't fail to hear the final words of warning that Jesus offers:
the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost
That is, the lost, those willing to admit they are lost, those willing to live in humility, those actually willing to repent ("Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.") are the ones with ears to hear the message of the Kingdom and the ones to receive membership in the renewed people of GOD.
Finally, then, this brings us to today's pericope, which on the surface may appear to be some solid advise on how to arrange the guests at a first century dinner party, but in reality brings to us the heart of the message of repentance, which is a solemn warning.
The point of the text, in context, is just this:
“At the banquet [which is a metaphor for the Kingdom], those who insisted on the best seats would be humiliated; those who refused the invitation would be replaced with others...” (from Wright. Bracket explanation mine)
The choice before the Pharisee at the banquet table is as simple as it is profound: humility or humiliation? Are you willing to forgo your understanding of what it means to be a “child of Abraham” and a member of GOD’s renewed people, or are you one who is “not lost” and in "no need of a physician"?
30 The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" 31 Jesus answered, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:30-31)
This actually dovetails and returns us to the text we unpacked last week when describing the narrow way into the Kingdom. So, allow me to repeat some thoughts I share then when I said:
Here, as New Testament scholar N.T. Wright reminds us, we find the difference between status and vocation. Their status as GOD’s chosen people must give way to their vocation to the be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
Said differently, the nation must become the suffering servants for the world, servants who offer the world a true view of the true humanness that displays the love of GOD. This meant, therefore, one could only be saved by repenting -- turning from their trusted way of being Israel and becoming the Jesus-way of being Israel. One could only be saved by becoming that truly human family that GOD always intended. One could only be saved by letting the Almighty write the truth of sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness on the new hearts of flesh that replaced their former hearts of stone. And, finally, one could only be saved by letting GOD breath the new breath of humanness into the flesh and spirits of the dead, dry bones that had been killed by their sins of idolatry -- an overt nationalism, a hatred for the other and a love for the violent way of life.
Finally, how this text touches us may be less obvious than before opening this different way of interpreting the pericope, but it is nonetheless profound. If we -- Jesus' hearers now -- understand repentance as nothing more than turning from a personal sin-list, as serious as this is, we, too, will actually miss the narrow way. No, repentance for us means there is nothing more important to us than daily walking the Jesus-way. Or, as Jesus framed it:
"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
As I have said from this pulpit for years now, supremely, the Christian faith is something to be done, something to be practiced!
Or, said still differently, all we have been preaching this entire year in our working through Luke’s Gospel comes down to this moment: Humility now or Humiliation eventually? If this was the choice for Jesus’ first hearers, which I believe it was, it is just as profoundly our choice as well.
Are we willing to act upon the Jesus-way now, by how we live? Are we willing to forgo success, power and recognition in order to follow the humanness-through-humility found in Christ? (now we are at St. Paul’s let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus of Philippians 2) Are we willing to love our neighbor as we love ourselves by allowing sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness to be what actually characterizes us? Are we willing to be a light to the world, our world?
If we are to walk this, the way of the new community of GOD, made up as it is with both Jew and Gentile, we must truly act and not merely talk about it. We must forgo becoming the acid-antagonism of political parties and the deciding architect of the sins of others. We must allow the Almighty to be the Almighty.
Let us end, therefore, with one additional text from St. Luke’s Gospel:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14)She and he with ears to hear, let us then, hear...
LUKE 14:1, 7-14
On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.
He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”