by Laurie Gudim
In the Gospel story today, Jesus is at a dinner party with influential people. These are the power brokers of the day. They make things happen. And they have it all figured out: who is the most important person in the room, who is next, and so forth. They seat themselves accordingly.
Picture this set up. They are clumped together at the front of the room, in the places of honor. They talk and laugh together. They are in their best clothing, displaying their best manners. They listen well to one another, and nobody says anything too outrageous. In fact, with each bite of food they eat and with each conversational gambit, they unconsciously reinforce their belief in their own importance. They are where things are happening, and they have only to glance at the rest of the room to know this.
Jesus looks at this situation with a jaundiced eye. In his usual style, he doesn’t pull any punches in telling them what he thinks of their hierarchy. He is well aware that the whole self-aggrandizing structure is an illusion. So he tells his hosts the parable of the wisdom of sitting at the least important place in the room. Sit in the highest place and you’re bound to be displaced. Sit in the lowest place – and your host will come along and invite you to a better place.
Who is this host? Who could possibly be more powerful, more influential, than the people at this table? Who dares to have a different understanding of what is important?
God does. In the realm of God, none of their posturing matters one iota.
Jesus advises humility. Find the lowest place in the room and sit there, he says. In other words, open your heart in humility. That’s what humility is in its very essence: an open heart, a curious mind, the willingness to think outside the box.
In some of her talks the writer Ann Lamott shares a metaphor about bees. You can capture bees in a jar, she says, just by putting a little honey at the bottom. You don’t have to put a lid on the jar because once the bees have found the honey, they don’t fly up anymore. They just keep buzzing around near the honey, bumping into the glass.
Look up, she advises. To get out of the jar in which you have been captured and limited, you have to look up.
Looking up is having humility. It is the willingness to not know the answers. It is the admission that we don’t know how something is going to turn out. And if it turns out well, we don’t know why it did, and it’s not our doing. And if it turns out badly, the same thing is true. We don’t know why, really, and it isn’t our fault. Looking up is the willingness to consider other perspectives. It is the willingness to question assumptions, the willingness to admit to being wrong.
Humble yourself – come to the lowest place at the tables. Quit bumping into the glass walls of your cage. Look up.