26 Sep 2021
In the Gospel today, we heard these words: “And he put forth a parable to those which
were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief seats; saying unto them,
When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest seat; lest a
more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come
and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest
place. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest place; that when he that
bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have
worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth
himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.“
In Jesus’ day, the order of people sitting at a feast was very important, and the rules
were complex. It mattered who you were regarding wealth, prestige, age, and so on.
The higher you were in rank, the closer you were to the host at the head of the table.
I’m not sure it is that much different now at official dinners of various sorts. Name plates
are common and the people in charge enforce their seating charts.
Probably Jesus had just seen the people at the banquet he was attending do the same
sort of sorting and adjusting process over the best seating. Obviously, you lost face if
you thought you should be higher up than the host intended you to be. Jesus pointed
out to them that it is far better to assess your rank well below what the host might
perceive. But, the real lesson here isn’t about table manners; it is a matter of where we
stand before God. It is about that commodity so rare today—humility.
There was a time when it wasn’t so scarce. We regularly saw it in children. We saw it
in people who for one reason or another had risen to the role of hero be they soldier,
sports personality, or someone who had risked life and limb to save another. There was
even humility in a rare political figure. That’s hard to imagine! Many of us were taught
by our parents not to “blow our own horn” or brag about our accomplishments. We
knew that old saying “pride comes before the fall”. Often, in literature and
entertainment, we would watch to see when the arrogant figure is taken down a notch or
two. Life is full of such lessons telling us that having a good sense of humility is a
healthier attitude. But the world today seems to have completely forgotten this. People,
especially the young, are encouraged to be aggressive in their demeanor and to push to
make themselves seen or recognized. Look at the political environment today: it is filled
with arrogance and personal attacks. It is clouded with a “I, me, mine” poisonous
atmosphere. No wonder we are making no progress with all of this pushing and
shoving. The last thing many would consider is taking a lower place at the table.
But this especially applies to our relationship with God. Our faith emphasizes the need
to humble ourselves before God regularly, to recognize our sins and short fallings.
During Holy Communion we repeat this prayer:
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We
acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to
time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine
Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly
repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is
grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy
upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, Forgive us all
that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of
life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jesus is pointing out the need for humility to his fellow banquet attendees then and to
us now. He doesn't want us to fall prey to the illness of pride. Want a model of
humility? It is the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross sacrificed there for our redemption.
We need to spend more time considering what He did for us, what our sins have done
to our standing with God, and all the times we have been “missing the mark” that Jesus
has set before us.
Humility requires honesty about ourselves before God. It is also something we should
try to instill in our children and grandchildren. It requires also sincerity in our
hearts—that we mean what we say. That there is pain in our hearts for the sins we
have committed and the humility we bear is reflected in our daily lives. False humility is
a lie to ourselves and others. It is an excuse or a cover for the truth we know all too
well. Real humility brings vitality and strengthen to our daily living.
Asking God to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith is our daily challenge as
Christians “for whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth
himself shall be exalted.”
Bishop Edwin Tompkins