Sermon for Sunday 28 August 2022
“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 honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.”
When I was a graduate student I once had to write a seminar paper on how Luke uses the word “glory.” The interesting thing is, he uses it far more than any of the other gospel writers. It is clearly a very important word for him.
One of the more boring things I had to do as part of researching that paper was to go through the gospels, and look up every single one of Luke’s mentions of the word “glory” in order to be able to compare them. In the process of that rather dreary task, I spotted something I had never noticed before. And that is that the word glory is hidden away in the passage set in our gospel reading this morning.
Why do I use the word “hidden”?…well I mean the word is present in the original Greek text, but rarely makes it into our English translations.
Just now we heard that if we take the lowest place at a banquet, the host will says to us, “Friend, come higher.” Jesus tells us, “then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.” But the Greek actually says this: “There will be glory to you before those who are sitting with you.”
Why is the word glory there? Why does Luke choose that and not another word?
I suspect it maybe has something to do with the fact that for Luke, the word glory is very closely associated with the presence of God. For him “Glory” is one of the best ways you can describe what God is like. It’s particularly a word he uses to talk about Jesus after his Resurrection and Ascension, and it’s how he says Jesus looks in his version of the Transfiguration.
Jesus is born as a human, takes the lot of a humble carpenter, and dies on a cross, only to be raised and “glori”-fied. Jesus takes the lowest place and finds that he is given glory. Could it possibly be the case that this person who takes the lowliest place at the banquet is actually a bit like Jesus himself?
Jesus humbled himself, becoming human, but was raised higher, and given glory and honour by his Father, the host of the heavenly wedding banquet.
So, maybe what Jesus is saying is that it’s good to take the lowest place at a dinner not because it saves you face, or it’s good manners. No, it’s good to take the lowest place at a banquet because in doing that we are being like Jesus. The way to receive our heavenly reward is to take the humblest part, just like Jesus did.
I think that tells us a lot about what it means to be a Christian. At the heart of being a Christian is living a life more like Christ’s – with Christ living in us. If Christ put himself last, and took the humblest place, then doing the same thing is one of the most important things that will distinguish us as Christians.
That doesn’t mean cultivating obsequiousness like Uriah Heap, nor does it mean being unhealthily obsessed with doing ourselves down and being an emotional door mat. But it does mean that with a joyful heart, we put ourselves at the service of others for the sake of Christ.
Should I really resent the annoying friend who constantly rings me up to moan about their problems? Should I really feel so annoyed when my neighbour asks for a bit of help carrying some furniture she’s too old to move on her own? It’s when we cultivate empathy for others that we are able to reach out to them as Christ does.
Taking the humblest place also means we keep in check our own ambitions and desires; is that job promotion at the expense of a colleague really the most important thing in my life? At social events or parish parties do I only nobnob with the people I think of as important?
Being humble also means having a more realistic view of the worth of possessions; do I give the impression I value people by how they look or what they own, or do I dash after the latest fashions as if my life depended on them?
I have to say we clergy are some of the worse culprits I know in all of the examples I’ve just given.
So taking the lowest seat might be a much more important thing than we all realized, for in taking it, we copy Christ, we allow him to live in us – he who took our humble nature on himself, and reached out in empathy to the human race, only to be raised higher, and be given glory and honour by his Father.
Fr Peter Anthony