Saturday, August 20, 2016

God's Etiquette

The gospel lesson appointed for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 14:1, 7-14, is a multi-layered text.  On one hand it is clearly a teaching about humility and hospitality akin to similar teachings in the wisdom literature.  On the other hand, since the banquet table is a well-known symbol of the reign of God, this text is also teaching us about who is welcome at the Lord's banquet table.  Finally, then, this text is speaking to us about who is welcome at the Lord's table in our worship space.  Who is invited to our banquet table?  that is the question.

(The following questions are a sample from my method for exegesis based on a Law/Gospel reading of the text.  A more complete explanation of this method may be found in my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus, the one speaking the Word in this text, is clearly giving instructions.  He is not saving, healing, or granting life - gospel functions.  He is also not judging, condemning or challenging - law functions - even though we are told that he notices the shortcomings of the guests who seek honor for themselves.  Since he is giving instructions, the Word here is functioning as a call to obedience.  This is the Word functioning to say, "Follow Jesus."  Jesus is showing us here how to live in response to God's gracious work in our lives.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  The Word functions as Law when it says in some way, "You need Jesus!"  The Word functions as Gospel when it says, "Here is Jesus!"  In this text neither of these functions is present, therefore it is a call to obedience.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is always advisable to identify with those whom the Word addresses. In this text we are "the guests [who choose] the places of honor."  We are the ones who routinely forget that in God's economy, "all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."  We are also those who routinely invite only our friends, or siblings, or relatives, or rich neighbors - those who offer us something in return - into our churches, when in God's economy "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" are those whom God most wishes us to invite.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  The language of this text gives us several ideas:  uninvited/welcome; humbled/exalted; excluded/blessed.

5.  Exegetical work:  Fred Craddock, in his commentary on Luke (Interpretation series) says that in this text Jesus is calling for "kingdom behavior." (p. 77)  I like that.  Kingdom behavior is behavior based on faith in the One who hosts the banquet.  Kingdom behavior is behavior based on hospitality, compassion, and justice.  Kingdom behavior is behavior that assumes that all have the right to sit at the Lord's table, and there are none who are either too high or too low in status to be excluded.  As the old saying goes, "The ground is level at the foot of the Cross."

The text follows in line with a great number of Old and New Testament verses that instruct us in kingdom behavior.  Here are just a few examples;
     Psa 49:12  "Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish."
     Hab 2:6  "Alas for you who heap up what is not your own!"
     Matt 23:5  "They do all their deeds to be seen by others."
     Mar 9:33  "They had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest."
     Mar 10:45  "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve..."
     John 5:44  "How can you believe when you accept the glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?"
     I Jn 2: 16   "For all that is in the world.... the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Mark Marius does a very nice analysis of this work using the Crossings Community model.  It is archived under 2013 Year C Gospel for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost at crossings.org - text study.  In this clear two-part model, Marius shows how we buy into the world's notion that "You are where you sit."  Because we buy into this, we begin to misplace our faith in the status we gain, in the places we are seen, and in the honors bestowed on us.  In the second part of his analyis Marius shows how Christ breaks through our misplaced faith by inviting us to the banquet at the baptismal font and showering us with grace.  We then, in turn, secure in our place in the kingdom, are freed to offer others the best seats at our tables.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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