I looked up humility in the dictionary and the first definition was “to be aware of our failings” and the second one was “unpretentious”.
In the general confession and absolution every Sunday we are encouraged to be aware of our failings - to recognise where we fall short. So we are constantly being asked to be self aware, to know ourselves, to know our strengths and weaknesses – not in order to be punished for them but to name them, to confess them. Once our failings have been consciously identified we then at least have a chance to resolve to improve the way we are.
If we think we are perfect just the way we are then we live in a state of denial and will never move forward – unless like me, you really are perfect of course!
The inherent danger is that this constant confession and acknowledgement of our faults can descend into self-flagellation and guilt with the result that we have an irretrievably negative view of ourselves. This is a result that developed in certain areas of classical Western Christianity that sees us all as evil and forever grovelling on the floor. It is about balance. A much healthier Eastern Christian view is that we are certainly all flawed but not irredeemably evil. We are after all, made in the image of God are we not, according to Genesis. We are made in his image and strive to be in his likeness as well, but know we fail often.
As a dinner guest Jesus it seems was a bit of a nightmare, hauling his host and fellow guests over the coals, deriding their own sense of worth and position in life relative to the other guests, when they all chose to sit in “places of honour” whatever they were.
But Jesus says, rather than assume they are the most honoured guests, they should assume the opposite and wait to be invited to the best seats.
It can’t be emphasised enough that the meal or banquet is in Jewish and Christian imagery a metaphor, a picture of the Kingdom of God, often a picture of heaven itself with God as the host.
This is the same for our Sunday Eucharist – which is a meal of bread and wine where the host is God.
The values that Jesus extols in his parable today hold true for us as well. There is no dinner guest here today intrinsically closer to God than anyone else. All are welcome and if approached with a certain self knowledge, a little humility, God will reach out and invite you close to him. “Friend, move up higher” as it says in the parable.
The parable turns the social status quo upside down – because all those who are generally intrinsically humble, because they have their shortcomings made clear by society all the time characterised in the parable “as the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind”. Jesus says they will be accepted and exalted. Whereas the rich and self-confident and those with a higher opinion of themselves will need to be taken down a peg or two.
Jesus notes how when we give parties we generally only invite who we consider our social equals who share our values and worldview. In our everyday lives I suggest that will always be the case. But in church, at our weekly dinner party, we strive to make this a welcoming place for all, regardless of their social background, education, or wealth.
In acknowledging that we all have shortcomings of one kind or another, the playing field is levelled. From a divine perspective I am no better than you who is no better than you who is no better than you. From a divine perspective we are no worse than each other either.
We are assured that when we approach the ritual where we act out the indwelling of the divine and share the bread and wine, no-one is excluded. All are welcome at the banquet of the Kingdom unless we exclude ourselves. At this banquet we are all on an equal footing – blessed though flawed, and loved.