Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, this is an interesting Gospel story! Jesus is invited to a meal, a Sabbath meal with a leader of the Pharisees. Before we stereotype the Pharisees, it’s important to note that the Pharisees sometimes get a bum rap. We have heard in other Scriptures that some Pharisees tried to warn Jesus about King Herod. So not all Pharisees were people out to get Jesus. I’m not sure that this particular Pharisee is one of Jesus’s friends. We hear that everyone at the dinner was watching Jesus. That doesn’t sound particularly friendly. But Jesus is watching the other guests too! And when he speaks, he has a lot to say about what they are doing; and he has some advice for them.
Jesus begins with common place advice about being a guest. Don’t try to get the seats closest to the host, or you might be told to move down and someone else gets your spot. Even the ancient text from the Hebrew book of Proverbs, written long before Jesus was born, gives that same advice. “Do not put yourself forward… for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower.”
Jesus lived in an honor/shame society. That means that a dinner party was not just a dinner party. It was a demonstration of status. When the host invited people to the party, he was very careful to seat the most influential guests in the front. And the less influential sat further away. Even the food was different for each table. The folks in the front might have steak and lobster with lots of fine wine to wash it down. But the further away you were from the head table, the worse the meal was. The people in the back probably would have peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and Kool-Aid!
So why should we care about what Jesus is saying? We aren’t living in an honor/shame culture... or are we? Many of us haven’t been students in middle or high school for a long time. Remember the cafeteria, cliques, bullying? It still happens – in spades. Even as an adult, I have experienced that sinking feeling when I’ve gone to a meeting, or even family gatherings, and found myself on the outside – everyone, oh so polite, but still knowing that somehow, I didn’t belong. There were “in folk” and I was definitely standing on the outside.
Adults just tend to be more polite about it. It hurts none-the-less. And the judgement, whispered or unspoken, still stings. It wasn’t so long ago in churches, that pews were decided by status. Each year, congregants had a meeting and people were assigned their pews by their status, which was decided by the pastor and the council. The best people sat up front and the yokels sat at the back. It’s a good thing we don't do that anymore, since now lots of people want to sit in the back of the church!
When the world tells us to hate someone because we disagree with them, or to fear someone who doesn’t look like us or worship like us or love the way we love… we need to remember that God is at the center of our lives. That’s why we come here every week, to be reminded of who we are and who we belong to. God loves all people all creation. Isn’t that what we profess as we recite the Apostles’ Creed? As we come up for Communion? When we leave here and go out into a world that only values success, wealth, and power… when we hear leaders call us to fear each other for whatever reason… we need to hold on to the love we celebrate here in this place. We need to remind ourselves that we are loved and cherished for who we are, and make sure that those around us know that they are loved and cherished as children of God. Amen.