Old Testament: Jeremiah (2:4-13)
Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? They did not say, “Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit. Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord, and I accuse your children’s children. Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
The Response: Psalm (81:1, 10-16)
1 Sing with joy to God our strength *
and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.
10 I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, *
“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
11 And yet my people did not hear my voice, *
and Israel would not obey me.
12 So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts, *
to follow their own devices.
13 Oh, that my people would listen to me! *
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14 I should soon subdue their enemies *
and turn my hand against their foes.
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, *
and their punishment would last for ever.
16 But Israel would I feed with the finest wheat *
and satisfy him with honey from the rock.
The Epistle: Hebrews (13:1-8, 15-16)
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
The Gospel: Luke (14:1, 7-14)
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. 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
By now, most teachers and students have returned to the classroom. Those who haven’t are getting ready to begin very soon. At our house, that has meant a juggling of schedules for school, homework, part-time jobs, and other activities. And it means that we have been talking about some of our kids’ classes that are already in-progress.
Like many other students, our two had books to read and assignments to do during the summer. And, at least in some classes, their new year has begun with a review of that work. We’ve talked a bit about their summer reading books: some of which Judy and I read when we were in school; others, we didn’t.
Maybe it was those conversations and the memories that they invoked that led me, when I read today’s gospel reading, which reflects on the role of humility in life, to call to mind one of Charles Dickens’ notable characters: Uriah Heep from David Copperfield. Those of you who are familiar with the novel will remember him as the one who kept insisting that he was “very, very ‘umble,” even though that was not the case at all. He consistently used his simple background as a cover while he worked, in his own cloying way, to manipulate others for his own greedy purposes.
That pretense of humility is obviously not what Jesus was talking about in today’s gospel reading. Nor was he holding up faked humility to be used as a tool, a means to get ahead, to get noticed, to get recognized, to get honored by being invited to “move up higher.” When Jesus used the example of a wedding banquet, he utilized that image to represent the ultimate feast: the kingdom of God, come in all its fullness. And he did so in the context of his journey toward Jerusalem, where he would show what genuine humility is really all about as he gave his life for the sake of others.
Genuine humility is not a matter of obsequiousness: of putting on a mere show of self-effacement to make ourselves look better. Genuine humility is a matter of putting others’ interests first and of acting in accordance with that sense of priorities. That is what Jesus did time and time again in the gospels. As one of the hymns in our hymnal (#448) puts it in a repeated phrase, he did all that he did, not for himself, but “for us.” And he did so, not so that we can think and act as though we and our interests were of highest importance, but so that we might follow his example in focusing on others’ needs as well.
That is a lesson that we need to learn over and over again in life; because it seems that our natural tendency, both corporately and individually, is to focus on ourselves: on what we need and on what we want. And without a concerted effort, we, as a church and as individuals, can easily slip back into that self-centered mindset: the opposite of true humility, the opposite of the approach to life that Jesus modeled for us. He showed us humility-in-action.
But the second part of today’s gospel reading points out to us an important aspect of humility-in-action. Jesus’ words to his host about inviting to a banquet “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” remind us that our acts of service must likewise be focused on serving the needs of others, including those of complete strangers, without concern for a reward or payoff of any kind. The key issue is not “What’s in it for me or us?” — on making us feel good, for example, as though everything were all about us.
Some people in the world, even when they help others, miss that distinction. When, for example, they provide food for the hungry or visit the sick, they seem to do it “because it makes me feel good to help someone,” instead of feeding the hungry because they are hungry, or visiting the sick because they need you. It’s about others, not about ourselves.
But Jesus’ words remind us also that our call to serve others in genuine humility does not stop with the people that we know and with whom we might feel comfortable. Those in Jesus’ audience who had the means to host a banquet to which they could invite others, including their wealthy neighbors, would have had to be fairly well-off themselves; and they probably would not have included among their friends, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Jesus’ call is to invite and welcome strangers into the banquet of God’s bounty, just as God will one day welcome all sorts and conditions of people into the great and unending banquet of the kingdom.
When our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews insists on the importance of hospitality, the Greek word that it uses for “hospitality” means literally: “the love of strangers.” That kind of hospitality is pertinent to political and economic issues that we are facing today, and which, to varying extents, we face at all times. For there, too, we have to counter our tendency to narrow our focus to include only ourselves and, maybe, those who seem to be like us. God’s call to us is to broaden our focus: to include those who are not as fortunate in an economic sense as we are, to include those who are disabled, to include people of other races and religions and nationalities, to include those who are strangers: whether those within our country or those coming to us from other parts of the world.
Even more challenging is that fact that the call to welcome the stranger is not a call just to help them from a distance, without having any personal contact with them, without really getting to know them. As Fred Craddock note, the text does not: “speak of sending food to anyone, rather, the host and the guest sit at table together.” That is even more of a challenge for us, to find ways to welcome the stranger into our lives, getting to know them, allowing them to get to know us, and coming to recognize our shared humanity as fellow children of God.
Of course ultimately, we are not the real hosts welcoming the guests. As one of our Communion hymns (#305) puts it: “Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest; nay, let us be thy guests; the feast is thine.” Christ is the real host. That is true not only of the feast that we call the Holy Eucharist or the Holy Communion, but also of the feast that includes all God’s blessings to us: that is, everything that we have.
And God challenges us to be like Jesus in using those blessings: to live a life of genuine humility, putting others needs ahead of our own wants, and welcoming and serving the needs even of strangers, just as God cares for and serves all of us.