Our ability is great, but our motives are petty. We the people have seemingly always been able to accomplish just about everything we want to accomplish. What we want to accomplish, unfortunately, doesn't amount to much.
What do we want? We want to matter. And, for the vast majority of us, we think that mattering comes down to amassing fortune and glory. Through our various gifts, our strength, our intelligence, our charisma, we seek to influence those around us so that our will is done. We quickly learn what makes people take notice, what people value, and we pursue it.
The problem becomes that other people are pursuing the same things we are and if they gain fortune and glory and I gain fortune and glory, then how do I stand out? How do I demonstrate that I matter? So, life becomes competitive. I must distinguish myself in some kind of way because to do so is to prove my life had meaning.
This principle drives toddlers to dob (or tattle) in a sibling who is doing wrong. If my brother is scolded for being bad, my parents will see my goodness even more. Better still, if I'm the one who shows them who shows them that my brother is bad, my parents will see how good I am and they will love me and take care of me even more.
This principle drives bigger kids to torment smaller kids. It drives hackers. It drives athletes. It drives scholars. It drives prettier girls to flaunt themselves before girls who are not as popular. It drives the drug dealer and the gang member. It drives the punk rocker. We want to make our mark on the world. And, often, we don't care what the mark looks like as long as some people know that we were the ones who made it. It's like the man who smoked 159 cigarettes at once just to put his name inside of a record book.
We grow up quickly learning that fame is powerful; that popularity has currency and that influence has value.
The religious world is not immune to this worldly thinking pattern. When I fundraise for Christian non-profits, we are quite thankful for anything we can get. It's a hard sell to convince people to give to something that has no direct benefit to them. The most generous people are usually the ones who can least afford it. But if I am appealing to someone who is choosing between a new sofa that will match their new lounge room or an immigrant's medical bills, they will choose the new sofa.
So, in my experience, the charities I work for receive $50 here and $20 there. It's a miracle to receive that. But, it is always a struggle especially when those who work for these charities know how much more they would help if only there were more funds available. And so, fundraisers start to seek out the phenomenally wealthy among us in an effort to procure tens of thousands and more toward their ministry. And, many non-profits do exactly that. By finding a few wealthy benefactors, the burden of fundraising eases as the ministry can spend more energy loving their neighbour.
The downside is fundraisers spend less and less time with people who don't have resources or influence (prospective keynote speakers, endorsers, etc...) and more time with people who do. These are the kinds of people we want in our churches. After all, we need resources for the nice auditorium where the gospel is taught. And if famous people know us and recommend us to the thousands and millions who pay attention to them, what better method of people knowing us is that? We seek out the rich and famous so we can better take care of the orphan and the widow while keeping ourselves from being polluted by the world.
But, as followers of Christ, shouldn't we follow what Jesus did? After all, was there a more important ministry than Jesus' ministry?
In the midst of this, The Light of the World illuminates the seedy underbelly and pointlessness of these pursuits. The Son of God was born as a child to a family of no influence. His birth was proclamed to the poor shepherds. He grew up in a small town in an insignificant area of Israel. He chose disciples from common professions of none to low reputation. He ate and ministered to the unclean.
In fact, this seemed to greatly agitate the rich and influencial religious leaders who muttered about who Jesus ate with. Is this really what the Messiah would do? Isn't the Messiah to be King?
Jesus ate with whoever invited him and as we have already seen, he did eat with the religious leaders. On this occasion, the Son of Man saw men deftly position themselves for various "places of honour". They were preening around like peacocks in showing the others how much power and influence they had. But, while they were pushing toward the limited front of the room, Jesus saw the back of the room.
He saw the repressed and disregarded. He saw the harassed and used. He saw people. He saw people made in the Image of His Father in heaven. He didn't care how much or how little they had. He didn't care how beautiful their face was. He didn't care how smart they were. He didn't care about how many people liked them. He loves those in the back of the room as much as those fighting toward the front of the room.
Jesus never, ever played the political game. Jesus never, ever gave in to the temptation to seek the false honour of men. Jesus saught the approval of only One. For Jesus, for the Son of Man, this was enough.
Do churches realise how much more could be accomplished when we are not diverting energy to stroking egos? Shouldn't we do what our Lord did and taught? When listening to some public prayers, one has to wonder who the prayer is directed toward. Someone feels slighted, so they start tearing down the reputation of the one they feel victimised by among their own circle of influence. We have to make sure such and such a room or building is named after so-and-so. We can't let people who dress wrong or look wrong into our midst. What will people think of us then?
But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
Who is our host? Who is our King? If we seek anyone's honour other than the King of Heaven, then we have not submitted ourselves to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Christians should understand better than anyone, that we are all children of grace. The grace of the Living God has made us equally redeemed. Growing in grace means leaving the old patterns of acquiring personal wealth, fame and influence through beauty and power behind. It all pales in comparison to what is near to everyone.
The Son of Man reminds all of us that to be a citizen of His Kingdom is to turn our focus on the back of the room as His focus is on the back of the room. Isn't it liberating to know that our energy doesn't have to be used pushing our way to the front? Isn't it better to know that trampling others on our way to the front of the room is foolish and unnecessary?
Father, thank you for sending your Son Jesus. And I thank Him for noticing this foolish man at the back of the room.