A Provocation: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Luke 14:1, 7-14

Luke 14:1, 7-14

14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

14:7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.

14:8 “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;

14:9 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.

14:10 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.

14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

14:12 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.

14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

A Question or Two:

  • What’s all this about sitting in the “lowest place?”
  • Is this some passive-aggressive ploy to get a compliment?
  • And what in the world is the “Resurrection of the Righteous?”
  • No, really, what in the world is it?

Some Longer Reflections:

First of all, when Jesus tells people not to sit themselves down in the place of honor at a wedding banquet, this is good advice.  If you belong there, the host will put you there.

But that business about sitting instead in the lowest place SO THAT they will come and publicly promote you is either fishing for compliments or it is comedy.

Imagine someone actually doing that.  Imagine the entire guest list doing that.  All the seats would be empty, but there would be this enormous line for the seat at the kids’ table by the kitchen under the blast of the air conditioner.  And the poor host would have to escort the guest, one by endless one, to the places they could have figured out on their own.  This would be a long, frustrating evening.

It’s comedy.

And the business about inviting “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” is probably obvious enough.

The activity itself would become a powerful spiritual discipline from which you would learn all sorts of valuable things.  These valuable lessons would include learning that “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” might not be overly thrilled with your condescension.  If you are inviting them only because they are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, you will shortly discover that no one wants to be the “token” anything.

This is also a kind of comedy.

But I want to think about the “Resurrection of the Righteous.”

What in the world might that be?

First of all, whatever it is, it is “in the world.”  Jewish eschatological expectations  from the 1st century do not (for the most part) include spiritual escapes into the ethereal hereafter.  When Jews of Jesus’ generation looked forward to what God promised, they expected that God would bring the entire Creation into balance, so that all of life could flourish.  In the world.

This balancing and flourishing involved a resurrection.  This was because Jews of that generation had seen far too many people crushed by powerful forces determined to exert their own dominance.  Balance, justice, flourishing, and fairness were going to require raising those people back to life.

But what about the word, “righteous?”

The notion that God’s promised restoration comes to the “righteous” will make Christians nervous, especially those that have the “justification of the ungodly” as their central theological mantra.

The word in Greek is δικαίων, which is the regular word used when Christian theology finds a reason to speak about the grace of God.  Grace justifies, not the δικαίων, but the those who are NOT righteous.

So Christians are going to get nervous.

It is worth mentioning that while this nervousness is rooted in our tendency to read matters of “righteousness” in the most soaring of theological senses, the word itself lives closer to the ground than that.  The Greek word δικαίων refers to people who can be trusted to carry out their civic responsibilities.  It is a very important word, but it does not imply anything about earning Divine favor or meriting salvation.  It just names people that you can trust to do the right thing, so far as they are able.

It therefore names those people whom you always want to know.  There are lots of shiny, sparkly people in the world, people who always make sure that you see them, who always make sure a camera catches them in a good light.  They are an annoyance. The people I want to know, especially when things are difficult, are those people who just show up.  Often they are people who have been run over a time or two: they have some scars, and some of the determined gentleness that comes with that sort of experience.  And those are the people I have learned to trust in tough times.  The sparkly ones are usually too fragile, and the shiny ones tend to sit around looking for press coverage when they should be helping.  And they leave as soon as the cameras shut down.

The people who have been run over are the people who need to be raised in the Resurrection of the Just, the restoring of balance and wholeness.  Even if it might make Christians theologically nervous.  We can get over it.

Perhaps this odd little story will help:

The Resurrection of the Just (Luke 14:1, 12-14)

 

“I really don’t like doing this,” he said, going out to the car.

He was telling the truth, which you ought to notice because not everyone in this story tells the truth.  He was telling the truth, but no one was sure if he meant he didn’t like going to see his mother or if it was going away so he couldn’t see her that he didn’t like.  It wasn’t clear what he didn’t like, but you could tell he didn’t like it.

Having said his piece, he left the nursing home where his mother lived.  He also leaves this story, because business kept him away until all of this was over, and therefore we’ll just forget about him.

His mother, Anna, however, stayed in the home and in this story, so we’ll talk about her.  She was the talented daughter of a talented mother.  All her life she made beautiful things.  You could see it in her eyes, lively and seeing patterns hidden to others.  You could see it in her hands, which even after her strokes moved quickly and with a control that seemed to take no effort.

All her life she had made beautiful things.  Quilts in particular she made.  She made the quilt that had covered her wedding bed, or rather she and her mother made it together, sharing the long hours of careful stitching, sharing the work of sewing exquisite patterns and exquisite dreams into a creation that was filled also with her mother’s still young memories and lessons.  Years after, by only tracing the stitched patterns, Anna could hear her mother’s voice sharing a world with her, opening her to the life that was to be hers.

“Hold the time close,” she’d said, “or you will have lost it when it has flowed by.”

One day after saying that, Anna’s mother talked about the death of Anna’s father; years ago , it seemed to Anna, but to her mother, just a moment.

“Hold the time close,” she said again.

Anna still had the quilt; it had covered every bed she had ever slept in.  Now it was worn by years of use, years of retracing her mother’s stitches and hers, her mother’s life and hers.  Every day she followed another path through the web of stitches, moving her hands carefully, as if she were listening to something far away.  She still had the quilt, or at least she hand it when it wasn’t on Mrs. Goldbloom’s bed.  Mrs. Goldbloom was Anna’s roommate at the nursing home and she persisted in taking the quilt and putting it on her own bed.  The aides would come and put it back where it belonged, and as soon as they left, there it was on Mrs. Goldbloom’s bed.

Mrs. Goldbloom was old.  Everyone at the home was old, but when you looked at Mrs. Goldbloom, you said, “She’s old.”  And she was, although no one knew just how old, since there was no record and no family.  And you’d never get an answer out of Mrs. Goldbloom.  She just puttered about in her wheelchair, muttering and crowing in what may have been Yiddish, making a delighted fuss over the world as if everyone and everything were her grandchild.  She could be a pest until you learned to overlook her.

One day Anna had another stroke.  The other strokes had left her a little confused, disoriented.  This one left her immobile.  She lived, but her hands lay quiet by her side.  Her lips no longer moved, but her eyes did, slowly and sadly following people who came and went in her room. It became much quieter in her room as her silence imposed itself on her visitors.  People who used to come to invite her down for coffee came less often, and stayed less time.

“How are you today, Anna?” they would say.

And after an uncomfortable silence they would add, “You sure look fine.”

After that they would be silent, looking back into Anna’s eyes until they couldn’t anymore.

“That old quilt,” they’d say to each other finally, as they left.  “At least they stopped old Mrs. Goldbloom from stealing it.

Mrs. Goldbloom didn’t take the quilt anymore, and nobody knew why.  Nobody said or did anything special, just after that last stroke, she stopped taking it.  She just sat talking, running her hand over the quilt.  She stayed in the room all the time, talking and crowing.  If they rolled her out into the hall, soon as they turned their backs, she rolled right back in.

One day the pastor tried to visit Anna to bring her communion, and he just got to the part where he said, “Come for all things are now ready,” and in rolled Mrs. Goldbloom, jabbering, crowing, rolling around the room, grabbing Anna’s hands and moving them over the stitches in the quilt.

“I know it’s asking too much to expect her to behave,” the pastor said to the nurses at the desk, “but I can’t give Anna communion if you can’t keep this woman out of the way.”  No one knew what to do.

Then Anna died.  No one was there, not her pastor, not her friends, not the nurses.  In fact, no one could say just when she had died because no one had been in all morning, but when the aide came in at lunchtime, Mrs. Goldbloom was there, still jabbering, still grabbing Anna’s hands and moving them over that old quilt, moving and moving, tracing, though Anna’s hands were lifeless and growing cold.  Mrs. Goldbloom was whisked out of the room in horrified silence.

“Wouldn’t it be awful to die like that, all alone?” said one of the young aides.

That’s the end of the story.  Or at least that’s as much as we have a right to tell.  You can tell any story at all, any story, as long as, once you’re done, anyone can look at it and say, “Yes, that’s how it is,” or “ No, that isn’t it.”  The end of this story involves the Resurrection of the Just and neither you nor I can look around and say, “Yes, it is,” or “No, it isn’t” to a story like that because nobody has seen the Resurrection of the Just.

But let me tell you anyway.  At the Resurrection of the Just, all things were paid back.  How did Anna’s pastor and silent friends make out?  I don’t know, I didn’t stay around long enough to see.  But up there, at the head of the line, puttering around in a wheelchair with an old quilt in her lap, was old Mrs. Goldbloom, jabbering away to a woman with graceful hands and quiet eyes, muttering and crowing to everyone.  Nobody understands much of it here, either, but somehow it makes less difference now.  Nobody told me why she was still in her wheelchair.  Maybe it was because Jesus was still in his.

2 thoughts on “A Provocation: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Luke 14:1, 7-14

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