Luke has long been my favorite gospel. I think that’s because it challenges me so much. You don’t have to read very far in Luke’s treatise to see what he’s promoting.
From the very beginning he wants us to know that Jesus is all about social justice.
In the very first chapter Mary, the mother of Jesus, says:
God’s mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
The Lord has shown strength with his arm;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
The Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
And in the gospel reading for this week:
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 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 honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ [from Luke 14]
Here, as always in Luke, the question is “Who is in and who is out?” Who are the ones who should be invited and given places of honor? Who are the ones who assume too much?
A few years ago I heard an interview of two rookie police officers who had worked the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, DC. One was Martin Niverth, a white officer. The other was Joseph Burden, a black officer. This was just a few months after Birmingham, Alabama’s sheriff Bull Connor turned fire hoses and attack dogs on peaceful protestors. Both officers say today that it was the most peaceful demonstration they ever saw in DC. And they were both changed by the event.
Niverth, the white officer, realized for the first time that there was a whole segment of society that didn’t have the same rights and privileges he had as a white man. Society had encouraged him to be privileged his whole life, but not encouraged him to be humble. He was shockingly paired with a black officer that day—something that never happened—and after they’d been walking for an hour or so his partner said to him, “Marty, I hope you can see what an important day this is for us.” And Marty did. Society had encouraged this black man to be humble all his life, but not encouraged him to be privileged and strong.
Officer Burden said that as a black man it occurred to him that even though he had a job, there were a lot of freedoms he didn’t have. He ended up on the podium near Martin Luther King. Officer Burden, too, had a dream.
He shared the dream with every person whose seat at the banquet has always been near the lowest place, where gifts are not recognized and equality is a mirage because the people at the first table have already taken the best this world has to offer, and they don’t plan to share.
So here is Jesus’ word to his listeners, to the church to which Luke wrote, to marchers and observers in August of 1963, and to us: If you are one of those people who thinks you deserve the best place at the banquet, think again. You need to be humbled. And if you are one of those people who thinks (or you’ve been told) you only deserve the lowest place at the banquet, think again. You need to be strengthened—you need to accept your own privileged status as a child of God.
At God’s table, every place is the same. There is always enough to go around. There is always room for you. Be strong and be humble. They are not mutually exclusive.
© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier