Kindness, justice, even love… Just words, until we give them content…kindness may only apply to those who are kind to us..justice might only apply to those of my own country or race…love might only be for those within my family or religion.
As we listen to Jesus we have to try and understand what he meant by such virtues as humility, kindness, generosity and compassion. His parables, like today’s parables give us the content for these virtues.
The parable of the wedding banquet comes from Jesus experience at a meal in the house of a leading Pharisee ..it was the Sabbath….they watched him closely… Jesus was set up ..the Pharisees had planted a man with dropsy and they watched to see if Jesus would heal him..on the Sabbath !!
Religious rules that prevent us doing the obvious, excuse us from what is in fact an essential part of being a christian…religious history is full of rules that have to be observed yet have nothing to do with being kind, seeking justice or in any meaningful way being loving of our neighbour, let alone our enemy.
They watched him…not to see his compassion, and learn the ways of Gods, but to catch him out in breaking a religious rule… At this meal, Jesus sees how the guests jostle with each other to get the places of honour….and it prompts him to tell this parable of the wedding banquet..If it is only about social manners, how to behave at a party, then it is hardly worth a place in Luke’s Gospel…but, if it is about how people jostle to claim a higher place in God’s sight, then we are into something very important and universal in application ?
A Wedding Banquets in scripture is a symbol of feasting in God’s Kingdom…this is not a story about party manners, it is about who is in and who is out of God’s kingdom
Who might sit higher up in the Banquet to come? Often it is assumed the rich, just by virtue of their wealth, or those with political or religious power just because of their high office are entitled to sit nearer to God, at the top table. In some Cathedrals in Europe, the wealthier you were was indicated by how close your tomb was to the altar…even in death people competed for the highest places. There is however, nothing immoral about being rich , it is how we use our wealth that counts with Jesus.
Who will sit at the banquet table..who will enter the kingdom of God….It is only by God’s virtue not ours that we will sit at the Table..money, status cannot buy our place…with humility we receive the free gift of God’s grace ..accept our place at the Banquet…The proof that we have accepted God’s gracious invitation is that we seek out the poor, those limited by circumstances beyond their control, those who are at the bottom of the heap. Those who stand on their dignity will never kneel to serve another…
As a parish you contribute to the City Mission and Anglican Trust for Women and Children…through our taxes we help towards the care of those most in need…seeking to influence how the government spends our taxes is also a part of being faithful to the priorities Jesus demands.
The Listener, last week, had an article titled “ Beating Anxiety”..it considered why young people are so anxious about failing, and how this affects their physical and mental health.
Social media creates a very competitive environment, so young people feel that, being average is not good enough. I was chaplain to a girl’s school..the girls were often told, you can all achieve excellence…no we cannot..some of us, perhaps most of us are average. We hear people who do get to the top, say “ anyone who dreams the dream can achieve it”….not true…only a few people make it to the top..it is OK to be average..to recognize our limits.
We are variously and differently gifted…most of us are not in the top 10 and no matter what we do would never be a Silver Fern, All Black or CEO….humility does not mean we deny or downplay our gifts and abilities…humility does mean accepting that whatever my gifts, ability or contribution I am not higher up than others in God’s eyes…what counts to God is my character, my loving of others, how I use my gifts to contribute to community wellbeing, my efforts for the poor and those imprisoned by their situation.
And we do these good works, not to earn a place at the Banquet..God in love for us, has already brought us to his Table and we celebrate this wonder at every Lord’s Supper….we do not presume to come to your holy table trusting in our own righteousness but in God’s great mercy….we do these good works, not to try and earn what is a gift from God, we do these good works to show our gratitude for the gift we have received.. to love our neighbour, because we are loved, to wash feet because we have already had our feet washed by our Lord, because through the tender mercy and forgiveness of God we know what it is to sit at the Table, so we want others to come to experience the same joy and rich fare. Not the religious rules I scrupulously observe, not even what creed I confess, but whether I act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. ( Archdeacon Michael Smart )