Breaking Bread and Kingdom Values

A Reading from Scripture      Luke 14: 1-14   NIV

14One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So, taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child[a] or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent. Lent is a time for reflection and redemption, a time to draw closer to God as we ask for and receive forgiveness for our mistakes and seek to live better and love others as Jesus did. The Lenten season is 40 days plus Sundays, and we will continue to work with the Gospel of Luke as we look at the meals that Jesus had with others.

As we ponder the words of the title of this message of “Breaking Bread and Kingdom Values” we probably think – what are Kingdom Values? Jesus uses the words that the Kingdom is coming in many of the parables that we have read. Today’s stories in the first section of Luke 14 centers on the breaking of rules while he is at a dinner on the sabbath hosted by Pharisees and Scribes. Pharisees are keepers of the law – very strict keepers of the law. Pharisees keep themselves separate from everyone else except other Pharisees. The dinner that Jesus is at is on the sabbath and no work can be done. But Jesus does not follow the rules — he is always breaking the rules – when it comes to people. People and their situations come first for Jesus. The Pharisees are always testing Jesus and “being carefully watched.”

In the first part of today’s scripture, Jesus sees a man at the dinner whose ankles and hands are very swollen. He may have had something like congestive heart failure and the water builds up in his body and the skin stretches almost to the breaking point.  Jesus challenges the Pharisees about healing on the sabbath — but they do not say anything, so Jesus heals the man. Once again Jesus’ actions are in their face and they say nothing or do not answer about what to do if a child or ox falls in the well on a sabbath — and still no response. Jesus constantly shows us that people come first in all situations – first before the rules. For Jesus, life is about living kingdom values — it’s about how we treat others.

Kingdom values are the way that people should treat each other. For God’s Kingdom to be realized people have to act like Paul states in Galatians 5 — 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? Let’s take a further look.

Then Jesus challenges the rules again — the following verses of today’s scripture show us what humility is — such ideas as not taking the place of honor at the table but letting others have it. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  The story continues about a wedding feast where the guests push past their assigned seats so they can be closer to the guest of honor. It’s a me first attituded that is prevalent at the party. Finally, Jesus suggests that we should not have a luncheon or dinner because the guests will feel obligated to return the favor. Ever feel that way. Jesus says to invite the poor, crippled, the lame and the blind and you will be blessed.

Okay! Here is a Dear Amy letter from Saturday’s Carroll County Times

Dear Amy: We just celebrated my daughter’s first birthday with a wonderful party at a catering hall. We had live entertainment, food, an open bar for the adults, flowers, balloons, favors, you name it! I spent months planning for this party to make it a perfect event. This is my third child, and every party has been a big event like this one. My problem is rude guests. I had more than half of the party (20 families) respond several days past the RSVP date. They showed up one to two hours late with no apology, and some left early. These guests took it upon themselves to sit wherever they wanted, even when I had place cards with assigned seating. As much as I love to throw parties for my children, in the end, I feel disappointed, insulted, and used. Should I stop having these parties, or should I continue doing what my children and I enjoy and ignore the rudeness? Amy Dickinson’s advice was for the author to adjust her expectations, shorten the time of the party and do away with the table assignments. If all else fails, get new guests.

All of the scripture that is for today is about how people react. They can be crude, obnoxious, self-serving or just plain disappointing.

An old story is told about someone who is searching for the meaning of life who wanders into the hut of a holy hermit in a forest.[1] The hermit offers his guest tea and keeps pouring tea into the cup until it is overflowing. The guest watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “Stop! The cup is full. No more will go in.” And then the hermit replied, “Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions, preconceptions, and ideas. How can I teach you unless you first empty your cup?”

That is a wonderful story about humility, which is esteemed by many religious traditions. Humility is radical dependence upon and trust in God. Yet in practice we do not see humility as a primary virtue today. We want to be noticed. Think of people on reality shows and American Idol. We read books about successful people. Who would watch a reality show entitled dancing with the hermits instead of the stars? We love success, status, and prestige. We follow a pecking order and seek to use it to our advantage just like those guests choosing the seats of honor at the Pharisee’s banquet in our Gospel lesson from Luke.

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus takes on the social code of his day. Jesus lives in an honor and shame culture where status counts quite highly. One of the key places where status is displayed happens at mealtime. Guests of honor were seated close to the host, while those of lesser importance sat farther away. And those who were not invited at all were not considered to be important. To be invited to a better position at the table of your host was not just an honor. It could mean a tangible benefit to your business as well.

Jesus is therefore touching upon matters of great importance. He first gives good advice. Do not think too highly of yourself. Be modest. Better to situate yourself in a lower position and be invited higher than to place yourself ahead of others and be asked to go to the rear.

Jesus’ second observation is directed to those giving the banquet. And it sounded ridiculous. He told the hosts not to invite people in a position to give you anything but to invite those who could not give you anything in return. That sounded like utter nonsense. In and honor and shame culture you see, inviting people to a banquet, whether family, friends, or business associates, put them in your debt and made a claim on them to return this favor to you. Why on earth would Jesus urge them to waste an opportunity by inviting those who can do nothing for you? It is crazy. Except that it is the kingdom of God. This is the way God wants us to treat each other. It is the way God treats us…. creating us, giving us what we need to flourish, caring for us, forgiving us, saving us…..even though we are unworthy and really can’t do anything in return except to share what we have been given with others. And that is what God wants. This is the life of God’s kingdom, and it stands in stark contrast to the honor and shame system of our world.

Humility means far more than just welcoming others appropriately as good manners. It is to remind us that God has given us all good things for no good reason. It is to remind us that God invites us to do the same for others. It is an invitation to take our faith seriously enough to live and act differently. Because our faith is important only to the degree that it helps us navigate the daily decisions and situations that attend our lives.

What would it be like to post on Facebook something kind about someone who rarely gets noticed? What would it be like to invite someone to an activity who usually does not get invited? What would it be like to tweet something about the importance of looking out for others? And if someone asks you why you are doing this, wouldn’t it be neat to say it’s because you think it’s what God wants?

Jesus invites all of us to be children of the light and live differently in our homes, schools, churches, and workplaces… Jesus invites us to fashion and nurture a different kind of community. This community is founded not upon status but grace and not on a scratch our back mentality but upon what God has already done for all of us.

At God’s table there is no need to jockey for position because all are equally welcome. The character of our guest list has everything to do with whether or not we are being Christ’s church. Any table where Jesus is present is a table where all are welcome. It is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where God cares for all and all we can do is give thanks. We are ultimately all dependent upon God and interdependent upon each other. And that admission is an example of true humility.