Reading Ramblings – September 1, 2013


Date: September 1st, 2013 –
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Proverbs 25:2-10; Psalm
131; Hebrews 13:1-17; Luke 14:1-14

Context: How mysterious are the
ways of a king! In a democratic society such as ours, we may scoff
at such things. A king is no better than anyone else, after all.
And yet, for a people who like to pride themselves on being a society
of kings and equals, something mysterious remains in the reality of a
king who exposes our pride and folly and presumptions. Those who
think they know what it means to be king are forewarned that there is
more to the job and the person than meets the eye, particularly when
it is not just any king, but the King of Kings we are confronted

Proverbs 25:2-10: Wisdom takes
many shapes and forms, and one form of wisdom is knowing one’s place.
It is the place of God to plant mysteries, and the place of God’s
servant the king to search them out. While we may balk at the idea
of a king, Biblically we are confronted with the reality that if a
king didn’t have to deal with all of the petty foolishness that
consumes his time, he might be a great king indeed.

As such we are called to regard our
position soberly, and not arrogantly. Rather than assuming our value
and worth as equal to the king or a favored status, we should conduct
ourselves as if this is an uncertain truth at best. Nobody finds
humility to be distasteful, particularly when we are given permission
to cast aside the humility and receive honor. But everyone gets a
good laugh out of someone who assumes their importance, only to be
taken down a peg or two.

Likewise in dealing with one another we
need to assume that perhaps we are not as bright or special as we
like to think of ourselves. Humility in dealing with our neighbor in
matters of dispute can prove very valuable for avoiding embarrassment
as well as financial loss. If we are willing to try and come to
terms with our neighbor – even if we believe ourselves to be in the
right – we are likely to have a far better end than if we trust
ourselves to the courts and to the opinions of those around us.

Psalm 131: A simple psalm of
humility. This is a psalm of ascent, which would have been recited
by pilgrims en route to Jerusalem for festivals or to offer
prescribed sacrifices. It might be easy for someone involved on such
a blessed journey to begin to think a bit more of themselves than
they ought. This psalm is a gentle reminder to humility and a sober
assessment of our abilities and place. Rather than clamoring
internally and externally for more and better, we are best off in
appreciation for what we have. Acknowledging that our God has given
us all good things, we should quiet our ambitious hearts, exercising
the self control appropriate for a child who is old enough to eat
solid food rather than nurse at her mother’s breast.

Hebrews 13:1-17: Over the course
of the book of Hebrews St. Paul has moved from examining the Old
Testament, old covenant ways of doing things to contrast their
limited scope and ability with the perfection of Christ as the
sacrificial lamb who atones for our sins once and for all with his
death and resurrection. As such, we don’t have to continually offer
sacrifices for our sins. Rather, having been forgiven through the
grace of God, we are free to offer our lives as sacrifices to him.
Rather that slaughtering and burning animals, our daily lives become
fragrant offerings to our heavenly father.

Rather than smoke and blood, we offer
up ourselves and our willingness to be obedient to our Savior. We
are not to judge one another any longer regarding whether or not we
are offering the proper animal sacrifices. Now we evaluate one
another’s lives as opportunities to put our sinful selfishness to
death in order to love our neighbors in obedience to the Word of God.

Luke 14:1-14: Echoing words and
themes from the reading from Proverbs, we see Jesus as the
inscrutable king, unrecognized by those around him who assume
themselves to be superior in their understanding and behavior. Jesus
asks these men of learning who deem themselves superior to render
their opinion on whether one may heal on the Sabbath or not. The
Pharisees know enough to keep their mouths shut rather than embarrass
themselves in an answer that Jesus will tear apart.

Just watching the assembled guests of a
dinner party offers Jesus a chance to provide wisdom in keeping with
Proverbs. Don’t presume your importance over another. Doing so
reveals a state of heart that holds others in contempt, and will
prevent you from loving them as you should, because you consider
yourselves their superior. Rather, assume that you are the least of
those present, so that you might be honored by an invitation to a
more prominent place of honor.

There are plenty of people in our world
competing for the places of honor by the world’s standards, and we
are tempted to jump right in and emulate them. Ultimately, we should
not concern ourselves with such things. What matters is whether we
recognize Jesus as the King of Kings, and place our faith and trust
and status in him. When we do this, other questions of prominence
and honor should fade into the background, making it easier for us to
practice genuine humility.

Jesus pushes the envelope further,
though. While we might seek honor for ourselves by constantly
seeking the lowest position of status or honor and waiting to be told
to move up, we can’t even imagine Jesus’ admonitions regarding the
hospitality we show to one another. We are to be so humble that we
are willing to eat – to host, even – those whom our society
discards as useless, those who are unable to repay our generosity.

This section particularly should
challenge our prevailing cultural norms of isolation and fear. We
struggle with whether to give the person on the street corner a
dollar or not – how many of us would consider inviting them to our
home?! The idea is foolishness by the world’s standards. And while
Jesus is not directing us to endanger ourselves, He is showing us the
hardness of our hearts, and our selfish natures that would rather be
with people who will affirm our sense of self-worth and who might
repay our kindness.

But the King of Kings gives to all,
before they can even ask. Not only does He not expect anything in
return, there is nothing we can give him in return. We exist every
bit the beggar before Christ, needing the grace and forgiveness that
He offers with no way to pay for it or earn it or deserve it. Yet He
invites us to gather with him, offers us his own body and blood to
feed and nourish us, and in doing so builds and strengthens his

We look forward to immense joy and
wealth beyond our ability to even care about it. Knowing what an
inheritance awaits us, how can we squabble over such tiny acts of
kindness and generosity to those who cross our paths? How much more
we should rejoice at the opportunity to share and help others,
knowing how immensely more we have already received in Jesus Christ!

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