Unpaid But Blessed
September 2, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
You Must Not Sit [Yourself] In The Important Seats
1. Today's gospel reading is on sitting at a dinner. According to the scriptures written just before it, it was the Sabbath. Jesus was invited to the home of a member of the high court, who was also a member of the Pharisees, and there they were having a dinner. It wasn't just Jesus, but others were also invited to it. It looks like many of the dinner guests were experts on the law as well as other members of the Pharisee sect. When you look, the guests who received an invitation were picking out the best seats for themselves. Jesus made note of this fact and gave the following observation.
2. "When you are invited to a banquet, you must not sit in the upper seats. A person with a higher status than you has been invited, and then the man who invited you and the other may say, 'Please turn this seat over to him.' At that time you will be embarrassed and sit in the lowest seat. When you receive an invitation, please go and sit in the lowest seat instead. Then, the one who invited you will come and say, 'Well now, please come up to a higher seat.' At that time you will win honor before all those you are sitting with," (verses eight through ten).
3. That's a legitimate line of reasoning. It has also been a saying in Israel since antiquity, and it is also written in Proverbs which was read aloud in the first scripture reading. "Rather than being dropped to a lower seat before the nobles, it is better to be told to come to the upper seat," (Proverbs 25:7). In a certain sense, this is something everybody knows. Not even going by what Jesus said, any man with normal sensibilities would not be ready to go for the upper seats right away. Even we would generally operate under such reserve.
4. Well, as Jesus put it, should we then first go and sit at the lower seat? Yes, but I don't think we should every time. Please reason with me. What if, while you sit at a lower seat, but then you think as follows? "I am not truly a human being who sits at the lower seats. Therefore, someone will soon have to say, 'Hey, come up to a higher seat.'" Then, in fact, someone does offer [you] an upper seat. Whereupon, you will say "Oh, come now, that's ridiculous." But, in [your] heart [we] can suppose that [you] were thinking, "That's right. I deserve it. This is the way it should be then." On a high level it is as Jesus said it. But, what Jesus is looking for from us is surely more than that.
5. Jesus is saying, "Whoever is high-minded will be brought low, whoever is humble will be made high," (verse eleven). The main thing is the heart. We should not just act humble-minded. It happens all too many times that the hearts of those who take the lowest seats are filled with high-mindedness. Therefore, the problem is not really in going for the best or the worst seats.
6. Why in the first place were those who had received invitations choosing the upper seats in that house? It was because they thought they deserved the upper seats. It was because they thought they were the first on the list of invitees. The phrase "to be proud" that Jesus used means "to be proud of oneself." When one is proud of oneself, one will see others as lower than oneself. Those who think they deserve the upper seats will see those sitting on the lower seats as lower. Granted that a person never intends to deliberately "look down on" [others], yet this way of seeing [others] will always turn up so. When one sees others as lower in this way, then, for example, it is the same [arrogant pride] even though one may be sitting in the lowest seat.
Please Forgive Me A Sinner
7. However, if this was just about sitting at a dinner, even though Jesus saw their condition, he probably wouldn't have given this speech. Actually, this goes beyond the topic of sitting at a meal. We say, "One instance shows all the rest." The attitude in their hearts which is shown openly at one scene is also shown in the other scenes. And for Jesus these are more of the issue.
8. Jesus made sure to give "a parable" here. In short, it was a Sabbath meal that was actually going on here, but Jesus changed it to the topic of "What if one were invited to a banquet." So that it would not be heard as a direct criticism against those who were right in front of him, he spoke roundaboutly and was considerate of them. He gave a speech on "a banquet." The reason he says "banquet" or "wedding party" is it is a term that expresses the kingdom of God.
9. In short, the issue with them was not merely the fact they were thinking of themselves as "deserving to be in the upper seats" at the dinner table. It was also that their attitude was showing that they always thought they were "deserving to be in the upper seats in the kingdom of God." In short, it is that they thought they were "the people who were supposed to be saved, the people who deserved to be allowed into the kingdom of God." In a similar fashion, if we think that we deserve the top seats in the kingdom of God, then we will look down on those we consider fit for the lowest seats. Perhaps we'll think even worse than that on those we regard as not even expected to enter the kingdom of God.
10. So we see how easy it is for this mentality of top seats and lowest seats to take place not only in a dinner setting but worse in the religious realm. Jesus takes issue with that mentality. Already in the previous chapter Jesus said the following. "And people will come from the east and the west, and from the south and the north, and they will take a seat at the banquet in the kingdom of God. Then, the people who were behind will be ahead, and the people who were ahead will be behind," (13:29-30). The point is that Jesus says that "Nothing will be like you think it may be."
11. As a matter of fact, Jesus will later speak upon this issue more openly. Let's go ahead and take a look at that. Please look with me beginning in chapter eighteen and verse nine. "To those conceited ones thinking that they were the righteous and who looked down on others Jesus spoke the following parable. 'Two men went up to the temple in order to pray. The first was a Pharisee; the second was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed in his heart in this way, Oh God, I give thanks to you that I am not like other men, a robber, an evil doer, an adulterer, and that I am not like this tax collector. I fast twice each week, and I offer up a tithe of all [my] earnings. But yet, the tax collector stands afar off, unwilling to even lift his eyes to heaven, and while striking his chest said, Oh God, please have mercy on me a sinner. I tell you this, the man who returned home justified was this man and not that Pharisee. Whoever is proud will be made low; whoever is humble will be elevated.'," (18:9-14).
12. This last statement is also found in today's gospel reading. Jesus gave utterance to it. God is the one doing the action though it seems to be tucked away in the phraseology, which is given in the passive as "be made low [by God]" and "be elevated [by God]." God will make one low. God will elevate [a person]. It is not a speech about humbling oneself among fellow human beings. It is a speech about one's relationship before God. To humble oneself before God is not to merely do something like "take the lowest seat first." It is to be like the figure of this tax collector when he prayed, "Oh God, please have mercy on me a sinner."
Please Invite Those Who Cannot Pay You Back
13. It is important to remember this in our hearts by understanding the next story along with it. To the people who the Lord went on to invite he also said, "When you host a lunch or dinner meeting, you must not call your friends, brothers, relatives, or rich neighbors; because these people may invite you and so pay you back. When you hold a banquet, instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. By doing that then, you will be blessed because those people cannot pay you back. When the righteous are resurrected from the dead, you will be rewarded," (verses twelve through fourteen).
14. [The command] to "Invite those who cannot pay one back," put curtly, means "Do not seek payment from the person." It is saying that the person who does not receive payment from another is blessed because the real payment comes from God and not from human beings. "When the righteous are resurrected from the dead, you will be rewarded" means that. When one is ultimately let into the kingdom of God, God will give rewards.
15. In a certain sense the teaching is easy enough to understand. But, having said that though, is it enough then to invite someone who cannot pay you back just as Jesus said it here in this text? If everyone did exactly as Jesus said, what would then happen if we all thought as follows? "I am different from those who invite only their rich colleagues from their neighborhoods. I have invited to eat many a folk unable to pay me back. I have piled up heaps of unrewarded hard work. So here I am blessed more than they are. -- Because I am definitely going to be paid by God first and foremost in the kingdom of God." Jesus did speak in that tone. And as Jesus said, we do await [the time of] being rewarded. It will be by God and not any human being. -- But, don't you see something is different? Is that what Jesus really meant when he said,"You [plural] will be blessed?"
16. We might be listening to the same words from Jesus but, it seems to me like the way people hear them can be quite different depending upon which position we are placing ourselves as we hear them. Did the persons who heard Jesus' words place themselves in the same position as the other invited guests? Did they think they deserved to be in the upper seats even in the banquet of the kingdom of God? Do we place our own selves in the position of the Pharisee found in chapter eighteen? Or rather, do we place ourselves in the position of the tax collector who had said as he struck his chest, "Oh God, please be merciful to me a sinner!?" We should expect a difference in how one hears based on those [two different positions]. How are we hearing this message [from Jesus]?
17. When we put ourselves in the same place as that of the tax collector, we should expect to notice a certain [detail] upon hearing the words of Jesus. "When you host a banquet, instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind." Though invited, they are not able to pay back. They can only receive it with thanksgiving as they acknowledge it as a favor to them. This is how I am in the kingdom of God! -- Am I not? We ought to realize that outright. "Please have mercy on me a sinner." We pray that way and then doesn't the fact that we receive mercy, are forgiven of our sins, are justified, and are able to enter the kingdom of God signify that? We cannot pay God back a thing. I know that I will never be able to pay God back, but yet he invited the likes of me.
18. Soon in the kingdom of God we will discover the immensity of God's grace by which he has invited us, though we are totally unable to pay him and we will be shocked with surprise. At that time will we still have any thoughts about someone not paying us back for the favors we've done for him or her? Will we count up [our] unrewarded hard work and then be plagued with the thought of [not being paid back]? That will actually be impossible. At that time we will discover that for the hard labor that seemed like it would never be rewarded in this fleeting world, we will have been paid in full because of the fact alone that we've been invited to the kingdom of God. It will be just as Jesus said it would, "You will be rewarded."
19. As for the banquet of the kingdom of God to which we've been invited though unable to pay, it is pointing to the Lord's Supper which will be observed afterwards. In this place the grace of God, which invites those unable to pay back, is full to abundance. When we come before the communion table of the Lord, saying like the tax collector, "Oh God, please be merciful to me a sinner," we should see that. Unable to pay, we receive the body and the blood of Christ; unable to pay, we receive the perfect love of God. For all that then, deeds of love must be produced without our seeking reward for them. Since that is the very very truth, we can hold fast to the words, "Therefore, you will be blessed because of those unable to pay you back."