The Bible is a tricky thing. We tell our Confirmation students that it’s more like a library than a single, unified book. It consists of dozens of books, each from a different perspective, written to different audiences at different points in time. Even the four Gospels—the eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus Christ—take unique and challenging approaches. They don’t agree with each other completely on wording, emphasis, or order of events!
This is neither a weakness, nor a mistake. God is in a real relationship with us. God speaks with us where we are, taking into consideration who we are. Each of us needs something different. Each of us understands differently. That’s how it was when the books of the Bible were written, each to a different community. That’s how it remains today.
This claim influences how we understand God’s word. Seldom did Jesus say to the people around him, “You are totally wrong and your viewpoint has no basis in reality!” Instead, Jesus tended to adopt the language and framework of the people around him, then expand it into something more than it was. God meets people where they are, then makes that “where” bigger and more meaningful than they realized it could be.
This Sunday’s reading from Luke, Chapter 14 is a great example. Jesus was invited to dine with important members of the community. He noticed guests jockeying for favored position, near the host, vying for importance and credibility.
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “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; 9 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. 10 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. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 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. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
At no point does Jesus tell the guests to knock it off. Instead he says, “If honor really is the game, here’s how you win: don’t grab it, but give it. But hey, there may be something more important, which is honoring those who always get overlooked. That’s the real purpose of honor.” It’s simple, direct, and compassionate not just to the privileged, but to everyone in the community.
What a gracious approach God takes to an inherently-ungracious situation! May we all be so blessed to listen, translate, and inspire when we speak with the people around us.