The Pas 15th Sunday after Pentecost – BAS Proper 22
Proper 17 – Ordinary/Lectionary 22 – Pentecost + 15
28 August 2016
Psalm 81:1, 10-16 BAS pg 814
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
God of power and justice, like Jeremiah you weep over those who wander from you and who enter into chaos and destruction. By your tears and through your mercy, teach us your ways and write them on our hearts, so that we may follow faithful the path you show us. Amen.
Have you ever watched people? Have you ever watched how they interact with each other? Or watched how they perceive themselves and their place in the world?
When I lived in Toronto, ‘people watching’ was always great fun, especially on the subway, or in public places. Although people could become verbally defensive if they thought you were staring at them (especially on the subway). But where we find people gathered, or people moving through their regular routines, then there is always somewhere to watch how we choose to interact with each other and with whom we choose to interact.
Today, our gospel tells us “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.” (Lk 14:1) Jesus points out that he has watched how the guests, at the Sabbath meal, at the Pharisee’s house, moved throughout the room and positioned themselves around the table. At the same time, we learn that Jesus himself is being watched, in return.
So, let’s look at this scenario, let’s do a little people watching of our own…
The day is bright, and sunny, and warm. There is a light and gentle breeze to keep people feeling comfortable as they come to the synagogue, as they listen to Jesus teach, as they converse with each other, theoretically on issues of spiritual life, and observance.
This morning, we find Jesus teaching in the synagogue. During his time there he shares his teachings and some parables on how to recognize the kingdom of God, and how difficult it may be to gain admittance to God’s kingdom, as well.
This morning, in the synagogue, in the midst of his teaching the people of God’s love and forgiveness for all of humanity, Jesus healed a woman who had been crippled for 18 years. She didn’t come to him to be healed, today, but he saw her need and answered it with God’s love, earning the ire of the synagogue leader, and his acerbic words directed to the woman of when one should come to the synagogue and seek healing.
At the same time, in the crowds, that day, we find a healthy sprinkling of Pharisees. Now this makes sense, after all, it’s the Sabbath and everyone knows that one should maintain religious observances as a part of their individual and corporate Sabbath traditions, so the Pharisees are out and about, and are easily visible at the synagogue. Some of these Pharisees come to our Lord and Saviour, and warn him of Herod’s intention to see Jesus come to a disastrous end in the same way John met his end. And, it would appear that at least one “prominent Pharisee” invited Jesus to Sabbath dinner, today.
And now we find Jesus at the Pharisees home. There are a number of other guests also invited to today’s dinner as well.
We can see Jesus. He’s leaning against a door frame; a drink in one hand as he looks around the room, as he watches the other Pharisees and guests exchange chit chat and casual conversation. Servers circle the room, trays of hors d’oeuvres and drinks to offer to this elite group of guests.
One of the servers suffers from abnormal swelling, and in the midst of his duties, he comes to Jesus attention. So, Jesus asks the question “’Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they reminded silent.” (Lk 13:3-4a) In the meantime, in the face of their stony and embarrassed silence at his question, Jesus has compassion on the server, and heals him.
So, now we can see the room all around us, its opulent furnishings, its wealthy and well-dressed guests, and the tension of Jesus question, Jesus action hanging in the air.
At the same time, the delectable smells coming from the direction of the kitchen, tells everyone that their host will soon to ask his guests to take their seats at the table, and the people begin to try to figure out who is to sit where. What makes this jockeying for position amusing is how everyone in the room has, during the time of the hors d’oeuvres and the cocktails, taken the measure of everyone else and has found them all lacking, in comparison to their own, self-established, claim of superiority.
And yet, the host has a preordained seating chart in mind of who will sit where at the table. The more honoured sitting close to the host, those honoured to be included sitting closer to the foot of the table. So Jesus shares his wisdom, once more, probably with a silly smile on his face as he speaks.
“7When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, [Jesus] told them this parable: 8‘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. 9If 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. 10But 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 guests. 11For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted’.” (Lk 14:7-11)
Today, Jesus is at a Sabbath dinner, not a wedding feast, but the order of seating is just as important. Those who are supposed to be more honoured are to sit closer to the head table, and you want everyone at the table to be able to enjoy good conversation while they dine with their dinner companions.
Now, keep in mind that there is a whole lot of people watching happening in this room. Everyone was watching everyone else, measuring them and their accomplishments, their standing in the community, and everything else that goes into figuring out if I am better or worse than the person next to me. And Jesus is the most notorious of all in the room. Naturally this means that he gets to sit on the host’s right hand, but Jesus watched everyone in the room jockey for the seats around that corner of the table.
He’s watched people take more care and consideration for where they sit at the table than they did for the condition of the ill server, than they did for the woman who had been crippled for 18 years, and we know that when he tells his parable, he’s talking about more than just where to sit at table.
This comes down to how we treat each other. This group of Pharisees are more willing to hold more to the rules and regulations of what can and cannot be done on a Sabbath. At the same time, they’ll hold to Sabbath regulations despite watering a donkey or an ox on the Sabbath; despite being willing to rescue a child or an ox that falls into a well, also on the Sabbath.
Jesus tells us that he is among us for the fulfillment of the law, to teach us how to live God’s law instead of just following ‘rules and regulations.’ He tells us to Love God with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength. He tells us to love our neighbour as much as we love ourselves.
In the dining room of the Pharisee’s house, we find a room full of wealthy and influential people who have more love for where they sit at a table than they do for the people who provided the skills to acquire, prepare, and serve the food that they will consume. But I bet, let just one server forget his place and sit down next to them at table, and they won’t love them one little bit.
When we’re told to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, this is key to seeing where it is we are able to help each other.
Once, Martin Luther was asked about his neighbour. He said he knew the man’s name, occupation, his wife’s name, and the names and conditions of all his neighbours’ children. In response, the questioner said that he knew the man well. Luther replied that he didn’t, because he’d never met his neighbour.
When I was growing up, it was common for churches to contribute to the work of mission, on an international scale. It was common for churches to send money and volunteers to other nations and continents to spread the word of God.
In the past 20 years, that mission field has changed location. Now, Africa and Asia send missionaries to North America, in order to spread the love and the word of God. And the message they bring is still the same message: To love God with all your heart, mind, spirit and soul, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.
And we know that this isn’t easy – to love ourselves is the main stumbling block. We see ourselves in the roles of the woman who was crippled. We see ourselves in the man with the abnormal swelling. We see ourselves as infirm, unlovable, and often when we look in the mirror we don’t like who we see looking back at us.
My grandfather had a couple of favourite poems. His favourite poet was Tennyson. But the poem, “The Man in the Glass” by Peter Dale Wimbrow Sr., was one he often went to in order to find honesty and integrity in his actions, and in his intentions.
When you get what you want in your struggle for self And the world makes you king for a day Just go to the mirror and look at yourself And see what that man has to say. For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife Whose judgment upon you must pass The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life Is the one staring back from the glass. He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest For he’s with you, clear to the end And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test If the man in the glass is your friend. You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years And get pats on the back as you pass But your final reward will be heartache and tears If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
We have Jesus words, and constant encouragement to love as we are loved in every page of the gospels. We have his observations of what the world looks like when we forget that there are those who are in need of what it is we have to offer, even if it’s just a kind word, a smile, and a few moments of encouragement.
We see that the world is a better place when we pull together, encourage each other, and receive their love, support and encouragement in return. It is then that we find Jesus amongst us, loving, supporting, and encouraging alongside us, as well.