Luke 14: Humbled

Since there’s been a lot of hullabaloo lately about the Eucharist, I picked up a book that my friend Fr. Ed Shea gave us a few years ago by Ronald Rolheiser called Our One Great Act of Fidelity. I’ve done book studies of other Rolheiser books and in fact have another of his next up in my queue, because he is an excellent storyteller and has meaningful insights about God and about us.

His point in this particular book is that the Eucharist is the one thing, really the only thing, that Jesus tells us to do that we actually do. The other stuff – love your enemies, put God first, care more about the outcast than your friends, don’t worry, (! DON’T WORRY!?! HAVE YOU LOOKED AROUND!?!?) or last week’s doozy, sell all our belongings and give them to the poor – we beg off on. “I would, but I’ve got this thing…”

But the “Here, take this and eat it?” That, we actually have managed to pull off, more or less, for two thousand years. Go figure.

Spending time reading the Gospels really helps hammer home how true that is. And while Luke 15 has some of Jesus’ feel-good greatest hits, the chapter before it is one of those that helps hammer home how bad we are at following through at what we’re supposed to do. In fact, it even foreshadows that Jesus sees this disappointment coming.

Luke 14 starts with a dinner, which means the first few stories are feast-related. The one that struck me, especially amidst the Olympics, is 14:7-11. Jesus sees that people are fighting for the front row seats at a dinner with him, and so he says, look, when you get invited to dinner, go sit in the back. If you sit up front, the host may say, hold up, my bestie just showed up. Give her your seat. And then you face the walk of shame back to the only seat left at the kids’ table in the hallway. Whereas, if you sit in the back, the host will be walking YOU up to the front to sit with them. (Honestly, this is pretty good practical advice.) But then he summarizes:

“For those who make themselves great will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be made great.” 

And I can’t help thinking about some of the Olympians who were puffing out their chests, only to get beat by someone nobody at NBC had heard of before. (Those are my favorite stories, anyway.)

A lot of the rest of the chapter is harder than that. When you throw a party, don’t invite anyone you know or like or anyone who can ever invite you back. Invite poor, outcast people who can’t do a thing for you. (Jeff chuckles; as an introvert, I sidestep this by never throwing parties.)

Then he predicts our response to, really, his whole message. 

Some enthusiastic fan shouts out “God’s party is going to be LIT!” (My paraphrase), and Jesus says, well, sorta. God’s party is like one where the host invites all his or her friends and they all beg off. “I gotta go check on a field I just bought.” “I gotta go test drive the new car I just bought.” “I just got married. I gotta get home.” When God asks us to come to the party, we’re going to find excuses not to show up (interestingly, in Luke, excuses that lean heavily on stuff we just bought, given 1st century views on marriage and women). Only the people with nothing going for them in life will make the time to show up. And THEY will have a grand time.

Then Jesus drops my least favorite “You can’t be my disciple unless you love me more than you love your parents, your spouse, your kids, your siblings, yourself.” (I think most of us can say “no problem” to a couple of those, “some days” to others,  but “no way” to others.) 

And he makes what I think is a compassionate but challenging point: Look, in every other part of your life, you try not to bite off more than you can chew. If you’re going to build something, you make sure you can finish it before you lay the foundation (except for that one tower northeast of Altamonte Springs on I-4). If you go to war, you make sure you have a team that can win or else you cut a deal. If you think you want to follow me, you better have the same approach; make sure you’re willing to pay the toll on the other side of this bridge or else take the last exit ramp.

I think that reminder keeps me humble. I’m going to keep showing up and sitting at the kids’ table, because I know I’m not willing to make the sacrifices that Jesus says discipleship requires. If I stay out of the way, I’m hopeful that I can stay in the hall, at least.

And, until someone says otherwise, I’m going to keep doing the one thing that Jesus tells us to do that I can actually manage with consistency. Hoping like heck that that one small act of fidelity helps make me ready for all the other stuff.

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