Last week we had Jesus in trouble for healing on the sabbath – for making grace – for making what God can do bigger than what human beings can legislate for. And this morning we have the carrying on of that conversation.
This isn’t the next passage in the Gospel – in the intervening time between that story and this we could have heard or read Jesus grieving for Jerusalem – for the people who could not see or respond to the coming of the promised new covenant – and Jesus speaking of the narrow door, the truly challenging nature of trying to do things God’s way.
But lectionary writers aren’t daft – last week we heard of a healing and a conversation about the relationship between the sometime smallness of religious observance and boundless greatness of God’s grace. This week we have another healing and a parable about the Kingdom which is breaking through – and how radically different it is to what has been imagined.
When I hear this reading I’m reminded of a PCC summer get together at my vicarage some years ago. Halfway through the evening I’m topping up the drinks and popping in and out of conversations as you do, when I overhear a PCC member say something like “Oh, don’t tell the vicar…. I’m being subversive again”.
I shan’t tell you what the subversive thing was he was saying – if you want to find out the ways in which a PCC can be subversive, remember this sermon next spring and stand for PCC election. But frankly I’m delighted if members of my PCC or my congregation are feeling subversive – because that’s what the Gospel is all about – and we hear it loud and clear in Luke this morning.
The subversive, counter cultural Gospel – going against the grain, going against instinct and perhaps the greatest sin in Yorkshire – going against what we consider common sense.
Jesus is out for a meal on the Sabbath – and the authorities are watching him closely, to see if he will follow the rules, do their idea of the right thing, or give them more ammunition to tear him down.
And he tells a parable – a story that invites us to consider who and where we are within it right now – today – in our time and space. And the parable is subversive. The parable teaches hospitality, humility, and much more. I wonder where you heard yourself in the parable today? The host who throws the banquet, the person full of embarrassment who has put themselves in the most important seat and has to be asked to move? Someone who always puts themselves in the lowest seat? Perhaps as you leave church today and we shake hands, you could tell me what you heard of yourself as you listened to that story today.
And Jesus says – don’t seek the highest place. Don’t put yourself in the place of honour.
In our world, in our work lives, in our buy-it, live-it, pretend-its-happiness lifestyle decision that people who sell things tell us is supposed to be our home lives, in education, at play – we are taught to strive for the highest place. To have the best car, the nicest house, the highest paid job, the latest tech, not forgetting the glossiest Instagram feed, or Facebook page or blog, telling the rest of the world how good we are at having everything that’s just a bit better and glossier than your life, and don’t you wish you had it together like we do. Exhausting.
And we know it’s bobbins/nonsense , we know it doesn’t mean anything, we know money doesn’t buy happiness – we know we need to live lives of real meaning, and that every day we don’t is a waste of the precious gift of life. But even though we know this we are on the same hamster wheel as everyone else and it is more than hard to get off it – it is hard to be subversive.
But Jesus doesn’t just lay down a subversive challenge – to get off the hamster wheel, to do things differently, to find humility for ourselves – he makes a promise too in that parable. That those who find the courage to have humility, to not seek the place of honour, to not put themselves first – will find in that act of sacrifice, that act that goes against the way the world seems to work – they will find they are truly rewarded.
The “happiness” that our culture encourages us to seek as the ultimate answer is in fact just a passing emotional state. And just imagine what clowns we would all be if we were happy all the time. Jesus isn’t just showing us how much bigger than our imagining God is – but how much bigger than our imagining is the wholeness in Christ that we are offered.
The place of honour which cannot bring us happiness or wholeness through grasping and pushing, is offered us in a very different way by a God who makes the ultimate sacrifice.
We are offered in Christ not a veneer of contentment, a shallow, surface skimming appearance of what is good.
God gives away God-self – in the Son Jesus – who gives away his place of honour, who gives away all that this world could give him through pushing, through exploiting his privilege. He could turn the rocks into bread, but he doesn’t. He could be lifted up by angels so that a rock would never hurt him, but he doesn’t. He could have power and dominion over all the nations and kingdoms of the world, but he doesn’t. He could take away our freedom – and make us happy clowns in some bizarre divine game of life – but God loves us more than that.
God chooses the way of the cross, the humble walk. And in doing so God gives us the place of honour we long for – and it is our home in the heart of God. God gives all he could have had, and all he is, in the sacrifice willingly made on the cross, and shows us our place of honour as beloved children.
And he calls us to share this experience of being loved – to give the place of honour to the most unlikely and outwardly undeserving – to subvert the expectations of our world and share the life changing love that has been shared with us. To show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
I thank God today for the subversive amongst you, who hear this Gospel call.