Text Study for Luke 14:1-14 (Part Four)

A tweet today from @BerniceKing displayed a photo of a sign.  Bernice King is daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The sign reads, “Blowing out someone else’s candle won’t make yours shine brighter. Remember that.” That’s an appropriate comment on our text for this week. But it takes some context to see how the comment fits with the text.

Malina and Rohrbaugh help us to remember and understand that the culture in ancient Palestine (and in the Roman Empire as a whole) was a “limited good” society. Such a society is based on the certainty of scarcity. They describe this certainty as the conviction that “all goods existed in finite, limited supply and all goods were already distributed. This included not only material goods, but honor, friendship, love, power, security, and status as well – literally everything in life. Because the pie could not grow larger,” they continue, “a larger piece for anyone automatically meant a smaller piece for someone else” (page 324).

Seating at a banquet or feast in this society was a marker of honor status. Honor was one of those limited goods in short supply. Therefore, the seating chart was a contested space that produced winners and losers in the honor/shame game. In a limited good society, solutions to conflicts are always win/lose propositions, zero sum games. In situations of scarcity, there are very few win/win scenarios.

In a limited good society, then, “blowing out someone else’s candle” might not make my candle any brighter. But it would mean that my candle was more noticeable and more noticed. Reducing and removing other candles was the way to make my light the most powerful. If the metaphor is stretching a bit too thin for you, in the limited good setting, putting others down was the way to raise myself up.

This means that if I elevate myself, then I must put someone else down. If I go higher, someone else is forced to go lower. If I have more, then you have less. There is, as Malina and Rohrbaugh note, an intimate relationship between power and wealth. While in modern societies, wealth leads to power, in ancient societies it was power that lead to wealth (page 324).

Therefore, competition for honor and status was also competition for wealth. Blowing out the candles of others wasn’t just a way to get status. Success in that game would produce the privilege, power, and property that marked “the good life” in ancient Roman society.

While there are differences between the ancient, pre-industrial societies of the Bible and modern, post-industrial societies in the West, there are at least as many similarities. In both theory and propaganda, we believe we live in an abundance society rather than a scarcity society. In practice, however, capitalism depends on scarcity to drive markets. And scarcity always leads to abuses of power and concentrations of wealth. One only has to reflect on the recent ups and downs of both gas prices and oil company profits to see the connection.

Scarcity-driven fear fuels the continued racism in the United States. It has formed this country’s immigration policy ever since the end of the Civil War. The concern is that Black people will get the vote and the power that comes with it. Then White people will have a smaller slice of the pie. The concern is that “hordes” of immigrants will flood our Southern borders and “take away our jobs.” Therefore, we build walls and empower border officials to use violence at will.

The White Evangelical Protestant Christians who have had disproportionate political power and cultural influence over the last forty years in the United States know that this imbalance is changing. Therefore, we experience White Christian Nationalism in the full light of day as the response. “We” will keep “our power and position” in the face of changing political, demographic, and economic realities. “We will not be replaced!” the signs say. Such power and position are experienced as diminished when shared. That’s zero-sum thinking in a limited good society.

Scarcity thinking is a tool to maintain the power, position, privilege, and property of elites (and their foolish and unwitting clients and lackeys) who benefit from the status quo. Abundance thinking destabilizes that system and is rejected by the status quo. If there’s enough at the banquet for everyone, then there’s no way to control and coerce people with scarcity. In abundance thinking, we light all the candles and illuminate the world.

Abundance thinking is basic to the Kin(g)dom of God. God has enough places at the table and to spare. There’s no point competing for seats because every spot is the place of honor. Every table is the head table. When you have everything, having “more” won’t improve your position. The call of the Church is to be the place where the world can see what God’s abundance looks like and how it works. We don’t do a very good job of that, but it remains our vocation.

That being said, what can it mean in the parable when the host (God) comes to me and says, “Friend, go up higher”? I hear an echo from the Gospel of John in this command. In John 12, Jesus tells the crowd, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32, NRSV). Jesus uses the same verb for “lifted up” as we find in Luke 14:11 (translated there by the NRSV as “exalt”). Going up higher means going toward Jesus.

In John 12, Jesus is giving a preview of his crucifixion. The “lifting up” he means there is being elevated on the cross. In the Johannine account, Jesus’ crucifixion is his glorification. But that “lifting up” is not limited to the crucifixion. Instead, in the Johannine account, “lifting up” is the whole complex of crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God. We can see that in Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus in John 3:11-15.

When the Host commands me to go up higher, that is a command to embrace the cross, resurrection, and ascension as this saving reality unfolds in my life. It should come as no surprise that later in this chapter Jesus engages in a discourse on the cost of following him. When Jesus lifts us up, there will be a cross as part of the process. There will be some pain involved as we leave behind all the stuff we thought would save us from the scarcity of sin and death.

When the Host commands me to go up higher, the Host invites me to become ever more the image-bearing creature God made me to be from the beginning. In the Christian worldview, being saved is not only escape from what binds us. It is entrance into all that God has intended for us from the beginning. Any language about “going up” always reminds me of the idea of “theosis” – that we are made to grow ever more into the image and likeness of God, as we see that image and likeness displayed for us in Jesus Christ.

When I hear the language of “going up,” I want to make a connection to the words in Ephesians 1:17-23. The writer prays that we will have the eyes of our hearts enlightened in order to see the hope to which we’ve been called. That hope is the wealth of glory through Christ. Christ has been raised up to God’s right hand, and God raises us up and seats us with him in the heavenly places (see Ephesians 2:6). When we are called to “go up higher,” not even the sky’s the limit.

Going up higher, in this image, doesn’t mean that someone else must go lower. Otherwise, the text is just a lesson in first-century table manners. Instead, we are called to relinquish our need to get ahead by leaving others behind. That’s not how the values of the Kin(g)dom work. Our call as Jesus followers is to begin to live in that abundance here and now. That call means we resist and resign from systems that create only winners and losers. That will cost us in this life, but we our place at the table is not for this life only.

“Friend, go up higher.” Answer the call to live into a better you. That “you” is singular when directed to us as individual Christians. It is plural when directed to the Church, the body of Christ. I could hear a sermon this week from my ELCA colleagues about the need for our congregations, synods, and denominations to go up higher – to move beyond petty anxieties about survival and solvency, and to live into the abundance that we claim God gives to us in Christ by the power of the Spirit. It’s hard for institutions to live in abundance, but with God all things are possible.

Resources and References

Malina, Bruce; Rohrbaugh, Richard L. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Kindle Edition.

Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (Twentieth Anniversary Edition). New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Text Study for Luke 14:1-14

“A place for everything, and everything in its place.” The quote is attributed originally to Benjamin Franklin. I adhere to this principle in a general sort of way. My stuff is usually in the neighborhood of where it ought to be. Every so often (when I need to feel better about life in general) I go on an organizing campaign in my office or my shop. I get most things in their place, at least for a while.

I’m not one of those people who draws the shapes of the tools on a peg board and labels the spot with a stencil. But I envy the people who do that.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

We humans like to have things in their proper places. We are mapmakers. Of course, we make physical maps of our surroundings in order to know where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. But more than that, we make mental maps of our lives and experiences.

Not only do we have spots on our mental maps for our stuff. We also have spots on our mental maps for people. Some of those people spots are personal and reflect our relationships to others. Some of those people spots are more general and reflect our perceptions of and prejudices toward others. We can call those generalized people spots stereotypes. We hang on to them not so much because they’re accurate but more so because they’re handy.

Because we’re also hierarchical critters, we tend to create those people maps in rank orders. Some spots on the map are better, and some are worse. We may rank people based on our own interests, needs, and preferences. We may rank people based on some pecking order and our relative place in that order. Unless we subject our maps to a critical evaluation, we will probably rank people in ways that always benefit us.

One way to think about racism is to see it as a way of mapping people places, both psychologically and politically. We put people into places based on their “types” without considering them as individuals. Beverly Daniel Tatum notes that this type-mapping (stereotyping) is strongly influenced by our cultural surroundings. She points to a study of children at age three who had already developed such type-mapping. “Though I would not describe three-year-olds as prejudiced,” she writes, “the stereotypes to which they have been exposed become the foundation for the adult prejudices so many of us have” (page 84).

When we take our people-maps as objective descriptions of reality rather than personal perceptions, omissions, distortions, and stereotypes, we have developed a prejudice. “Prejudice,” Tatum writes, “is a preconceived judgment or opinion, usually based on limited information” (page 85). Since we humans all make mental maps, and since we rely on those maps to guide us through our worlds, we all have prejudices of various types.

One of the type-markers that is most salient in American culture is race. Tatum reminds us of David Wellman’s definition of racism – “a system of advantage based on race” (page 87). We White people take our inherited people maps, treat them as objective truth, and then enact them as laws, social practices, economic systems, and assessments of relative human worth. The White racism in America declares that White supremacy is the natural order of things – that our flawed and twisted White-centered maps are objective descriptions of Reality and therefore must be embodied and enacted.

I think of the infamous “Mudsill Speech” delivered by James Henry Hammond on the floor of the United States Senate in 1858. “In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life,” Hammond declared. “That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have,” Hammond argued, “or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society and of political government,” he continued, “and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mud-sill.”

Hammond asserted that the class in question was Black people. “We use them for our purpose,” he said, “and call them slaves.” He argued that this way of organizing human society conformed to the law of nature. He was sure that such a system was “everywhere” and “eternal.” This is the very definition of taking our human people maps and imposing them on the world around us by law, by custom, by habit, and by violence.

We create our maps naturally and constantly. We tend not to even think about how we expect to have a place for everything and everything in its place. Then we come up with reasons why our particular map is the way it is, and why our map is the right and best map. That’s how ideologies tend to work. We humans engage in a practice, and then we create stories to justify that practice and to serve our interests and the interests of our in-group.

Sabbath is a fine way to organize time – until it is used to oppress some and exalt others. A seating chart at a banquet can reduce the chaos and facilitate the feeding. But it can also tell a story about which people are “better” and which people are “worse.” Our human hierarchies are rarely rooted in any objective measures of actual difference between people. Instead, they are stories we tell to make sure that we are at the top (or at least not at the very bottom).

Perhaps this is part of what we read in this week’s text. It’s not so much that we should always debase ourselves rather than risk being debased. That’s a fine piece of social wisdom, encapsulated in the first reading from Proverbs 25. If all we’re getting in our text, however, is some advice on first-century table manners, it’s not a very interesting text. I think we get much more.

I want to suggest that Jesus is calling us to challenge our own stories about proper place. Don’t take your stories and maps at face value, especially when they conveniently serve your interests and agendas. Yes, my natural tendency is to seek out the highest place on the organizational chart. And I can come up with a very good story about why that is good and right and true. But that very good story may be very good to me only because it serves my needs – not because it reflects any sort of reality.

Of course, I may have learned a story that always puts me at the bottom of the chart. And I may have come to believe, or at least to acquiesce, to that story. But what if that story is wrong? What if it determines the seating chart on the basis of systemic violence rather than on the basis of any facts? When the truth comes out, I may be called up higher.

The story that determines our worth, that gives us our place at the table, is the story of God’s grace, mercy, and love in Christ. That’s the story we hear and tell as Jesus followers. In our story, our friends and siblings and relatives and rich neighbors have better seats because they are worth more to us. In God’s story, the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind have seats at the table because they are worth more to God.

This is certainly part of the Good News of the text – and not just for the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. If my place on the map and at the table depends on what I can produce or manipulate or coerce, then my place is always at risk. Life is then nothing more than a bloody competition for dominance. I will always be looking over my shoulder lest someone pass me up. And I will always be looking up the ladder for the next chance to advance. The finish line is a moving target, and life is an unending round of anxious acquisition.

Some people like that story – especially those at the top currently and those who would like to displace them. But that’s not God’s story. In God’s story we begin with our place at the table and live in the joy of the feast. In God’s story, life is gift rather than accomplishment, grace rather than gain. I know it’s not the “American way.” It’s not late-stage capitalism. The Kin(g)dom is not a meritocracy. I don’t write it; I just report it.

“A place for everything, and everything in its place.” That is God’s organizing principle as well – if we understand that the place of everything, and everyone, is in God’s loving care. Our stories of dominance and hierarchy are not God’s stories. Those stories lead to systemic violence, abuse, oppression, and death. Those stories leave us scratching our way to the top of the heap while we debase ourselves as less and less human. God’s story lifts us up to be the image-bearing people God made us to be.

Can we organize our life together as disciples to reflect God’s story rather than our stories?

Resources and References

Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (Twentieth Anniversary Edition). New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Text Study for Luke 14:1-14 (Part Two)

I was making cold calls as a redevelopment pastor in a small town. I knocked on the door of an apartment. I heard some scrambling and shushing. The door opened a crack, and I introduced myself. I was invited in and made welcome. I learned what I could about the household and life there. I made my pitch for my hosts to check out our church. I left informational materials, my card, and sometimes a loaf of home-baked bread. I added another digit to my monthly ministry report and moved on to the next door.

Sometimes I found households with needs to which our congregation could respond. I declared with great vigor that there were no strings attached to the help we offered. But, in retrospect, I know that this declaration was not really true. No, we weren’t a “sermon and soup” sort of operation. Yet, I know that I kept a mental (and sometimes physical) tally of the responses. And I know that at least some of the people we assisted felt obligated to show up a few times in order to settle their social accounts with us.

Photo by Mat Brown on Pexels.com

That’s how the world works. And, too often, that’s how the Church works as well.

I’ve been associated with congregations engaged in wonderful ministry to, for, and with people having a variety of needs. I’m proud to have been even a small part of those efforts. Yet, I know that a frustration lurked under the surface of those ministries. Why is it that we do so much for people, and yet we rarely if ever see those same people are our worship services? And in many cases, we can document that a relief ministry in a congregation has never produced even one new member in that faith community.

We know (at least most of us) that we aren’t supposed to do this sort of work in order to be “repaid.” Yet, our irresistible internal auditors just cannot resist making the connection – or the lack thereof. If we extend care and support to someone in need, why in the world doesn’t that person respond in gratitude by giving us what we want or need? In congregations, that repayment would ideally (in the view of the congregation) come in the form of willing and even enthusiastic support of the current life and mission of the congregation.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that the church people I know do works of love for the sake of repayment in some fashion. In my experience, that is not the case. And yet, most of us have our mercenary moments, where we wonder if there will be some reward for all the work. I’ve been guilty of that sort of response more times than I can count. I’ve felt that way toward community people we’ve helped, toward parishioners I’ve served well who later disagreed with or criticized me, and toward a larger church which doesn’t always behave the way I want it to behave toward me and toward the world.

In her 2020 article in Word and World, Mandy Brobst-Renaud offers this critique (and I quote a bit at length). “The church today faces a failure of imagination,” Brobst-Renaud writes. “Having heard stories of abundant feasts, abundant life, and a God who loves the world in embarrassing excess, congregations nevertheless struggle to imagine new possibilities. In the face of dwindling church attendance, competing commitments, racism, sexism, and the desire for more people and more money, the church often responds with self-protective measures to save itself. Inviting new members or guests to our congregations often has the implicit goal of benefiting the church, Brobst-Renaud continues. “Congregations struggle to welcome those who are inconvenient guests, to sit side by side with those whose politics differ from our own, and to give the seats of honor to the poor and disenfranchised” (page 12).

We humans are biologically wired as sociological accountants. And it’s not just humans who keep track of social debt and repayment. Look at the work of anthropologists such as Frans de Waal to see reciprocal altruism at work in other species. Repaying benefits with benefits and pain with pain is the way that primate communities in particular tend to maintain social order and cohesion.

When you add that tendency toward reciprocal treatment to our human tendencies toward social hierarchy, you get the kind of situation Jesus describes in our text. “But [Jesus] also said to the one who had invited him, “Whenever you make a breakfast or supper, do not call your friends or your siblings or your relatives or your right neighbors, lest they also invite you back and make repayment to you. But rather, whenever you make a banquet, call the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; and you will be blessed, because they have nothing with which to repay you, for it shall be repaid to you in the resurrection of the just’” (Luke 14:12-14, my translation).

When Jesus tells us not to do something in a text, that certainly means that people were (and are) doing precisely that very thing. Otherwise, why bother to discourage or prohibit such behavior? We know that both then and now, we regulate our social relationships on the basis of mutual reciprocity – either for benefit or punishment. And Jesus tells his host, and us, to resist that tendency if we are to reflect the values of the Kin(g)dom of God.

It seems that Jesus doesn’t really prohibit our desire for repayment. Instead, he simply delays the repayment schedule and changes the payer. That which the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind would owe us for our hospitality – probably honor and appreciation – is promised to us as repayment “in the resurrection of the just.” It seems that the repayment then would come from God as honor and appreciation when we are judged at the end of the age.

That sounds like the worst kind of works righteousness. That sounds like giving something in order to get something in return. That sounds completely transactional – precisely the kind of spiritual life that I, for one, come to Jesus to escape. What in the world is going on here? Where is the good news in this stuff?

“The just” might be those who have kept and fulfilled God’s covenant of holiness in this life. But that seems to leave me with my accounts seriously in arrears. In my Lutheran tradition, “the just” are those who have life through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, not through their own understanding or effort. At the “resurrection of the just,” I trust that I will hear the words of God’s loving acceptance for the sake of Christ – and not because of what I have or have not done in this life. I am one of “the just” by the grace of God in Christ and not because of anything about me.

I have nothing that God needs. I have no bargaining chips. I have no collateral to place in trust against the day when I will need to pay my eternal debts. We are all beggars, as Luther declared. That much is certain. Since the currency of the Kin(g)dom of God in the New Age is grace, pure grace, and nothing but grace, then that is the currency of life among Jesus followers in this age. If we as the church are called to be the sign, instrument, and foretaste of the Kin(g)dom (and we are), then we are freed to organize our life together and our mission to the world accordingly.

Jesus’ words to his host are in the “you singular.” These verses are an intensely personal address to me and to anyone who answers the call to follow Jesus. All of our social currency is revealed as counterfeit. Jesus urges us to stop passing out spiritual funny money as we order our relationships with one another and in the larger world. Privilege, position, power, and property are tokens of that spiritual funny money. We may have deceived ourselves into using them as markers of value in this age, but they will be worthless in the age to come. Yet, we in the church continue to rely on such fraudulent markers of value to guide and direct our mission priorities.

Brobst-Renaud helps us to see how important it is for preachers to connect our text to the parable of the Great Banquet that follows. Whether you should read it aloud at worship is up to you. But we must consider it in our preparation and reflection.

“The parable of the Great Banquet exposes the church’s tendency to invite and welcome a particular demographic of people,” Brobst-Renaud writes. “Though congregations may desire the vision of the feast, political, economic, and racial divisions prove more tempting. Luke 14:15–23 inspires our confession: the church often desires to fill the banquet hall with people from whom the church expects to benefit and people who are easy to welcome. The parable of the Great Banquet reveals the church’s tendency to welcome those who already know the ‘rules’ of engagement and whose welcome extends only to those already present” (page 14).

Will I keep the good news of the Great Banquet to myself? Will I invite and welcome only those who will keep me in my comfort zone and provide potential repayment of my invitation and hospitality? Or will my life begin to look like the eschatological banquet on offer for all?

Text Study for Luke 14 1 7-14 (Part One)

12 Pentecost C

You may have heard or read about the new contract for teachers in the Minneapolis Public Schools. The contract, negotiated by district and teachers’ union officials and approved by a vote of union members, includes provisions that would protect teachers of color from layoffs if there are staff cuts in the future due to budget cuts. Union members voted about three to one in favor of the new contract, which also included higher pay, smaller class sizes and more mental health support for students.

The language of the contract includes an exception to the seniority-based system for reducing and laying off staff. The exception is for “teachers who are members of populations underrepresented among licensed teachers in the District.” While this language is not specifically race-based, racial groups are certainly among the populations included in the language of the exception.

Photo by Ann H on Pexels.com

In addition, there are provisions for additional anti-racist work and policies in the contract. This contract responds to the wide gap between the racial makeup of the student body in the Minneapolis School District and the racial makeup of the current faculty. Efforts to attract and recruit faculty of color are enhanced under the terms of the contract in order to continue to address the disparity and improve the educational outcomes for students of color and for the student body as a whole.

The seniority rule in many workplaces is “last hired, first fired.” That rule was a law in Minnesota until 2017 when it was repealed. It remains the rule in many teacher contracts and most other workplaces, not only in Minnesota but across the country. The exceptions built in to the new teachers’ contract in Minneapolis are going to result in lawsuits to have the exception removed based on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U. S. constitution. That has been the response to similar contracts in other places around the country.

I don’t typically follow the details of teacher contracts in Minneapolis, or even in my local school district. This situation first made the headlines in a variety of politically conservative news outlets. It was then picked up by most news reporting organizations. It has been reported as igniting a “firestorm” of controversy. It has been reported as targeting white teachers and thus as being “racist.”

It’s important to remember that no teachers are being considered for layoff at this point. In fact, the Minneapolis School District is just as short on qualified and licensed teachers and prospective teachers as most of the rest of the districts in the United States. Nonetheless, some outlets report that Minneapolis teachers are “outraged” at the contract – presumably the one in four who voted against it. In a time when the Supreme Court of the United States is preparing to hear and rule on some Affirmative Action cases in the new term, this conversation is politically and legally pertinent.

Why do I lead off the week with this reporting and reflection? I do so because our text seems like the epitome of an anti-meritocracy text. Those who are up in arms about the Minneapolis teachers’ union contract declare that it is “unfair.” People may be laid off even though they are more senior and better credentialed than some who will be retained. And one basis of that retention will be skin color or other ethnic markers.

What about merit? What about fairness? What about equality before the law? Those who came first should get priority and preference. Those who have put in the time and done the work should get the rewards merited by that effort. That’s the American way, after all, isn’t it? Work hard, put in the time, obey the rules, and you will be rewarded by progress and success, right? We White Americans are all in favor of “equal opportunity.” But we’re typically dead set against any system that moves us toward “equal outcomes.”

If I were one of those hypothetical [White] teachers laid off while other, less-experienced and less-credentialed teachers of color still had their jobs, I know I would be angry. I know I would struggle with a sense of injustice. I would wonder why I had put in all that time and effort just to have it thrown back in my face when the money gets tight. I would wonder how I was going to feed my family and pay the mortgage. I would be pissed off and afraid.

I get it. As that hypothetical [White] teacher, I had been operating under one set of social, political, and economic rules. Now, seemingly out of the blue, I am subject to another set of rules. I would have to think long and hard to make sense of this for myself and for the system in which I operated.

Part of the hard work for White people in this situation is to acknowledge that the rules were not neutral before. Hiring, education, advancement, and tenure systems have all been set up for centuries to benefit White people. That White privilege is built into the system up front.

All we have to do is look at the differential outcomes for White people and people of color. The numbers don’t lie. Based on the numbers we can draw one of two conclusions. People of color are defective in some way, and thus the system works as designed. Most of us, these days, would reject that premise when it is put so simply. The other possible conclusion is that White people get invisible advantages (and thus the system works as designed).

The second possible conclusion is the more accurate description of the social, political, and economic rules under which we White people have operated for the last five hundred years. If that privilege is built into the front end of the process, then it will be spit out the back end of the process – unless that privilege is interrupted somewhere along the way. The Minneapolis teachers’ contract is written in such a way as to interrupt that systemically built-in privilege and to move that faculty toward a more just and representative makeup.

I would suggest that one theme in our gospel text this week is about interrupting systems of privilege. “For the ones who elevate themselves shall be humbled, and the ones who humble themselves shall be elevated” (Luke 14:11, my translation). It would seem that Jesus followers are in the business of interrupting privilege and disrupting human hierarchies. And for those of us who are privileged disciples, that will mean taking a lower place.

The words of the Magnificat in Luke 1 come back to us now with a sharper sociopolitical edge. Mary sings that the Lord “has cast down the powerful from thrones and elevated the humbled” (Luke 1:52, my translation). The verb and noun in the second half of the verse are the same as in Luke 14:11. When we hear the Magnificat, we might be able to distance ourselves from this verse, since we don’t appear to be enthroned. But our text this week brings the issue to our tables and meetings, our structures and systems.

Disciples interrupt systems of privilege and disrupt hierarchies of power – in our own lives and in the world where we live and serve. Those of us who live with some measure of privilege will pay a price when the world is turned upside down (or right-side up, depending on your perspective). Thus, it is no accident that our text is followed by words about the cost of such discipleship. And it may be that the Lukan audience has lost their passion for such upturning, as is evidenced in the small parable about tasteless salt, in Luke 14:34-35.

I would not tackle the Minneapolis teachers’ contract directly in a sermon except in very limited circumstances. I fear that most listeners, especially in predominantly White congregations, would miss the point and get lost in protecting our privileges. But I do think that it’s a timely and useful case study for us as preachers to think through what this text can actually mean for our listeners and for the Church in such a time as this.

I would suggest that in Luke 14, Sabbath observance (a good thing in and of itself) has been coopted in the service of systemic privilege and power. That’s why Jesus takes it on with such directness and even hostility. His questions are directed toward those who benefit from the system as it is. His actions are directed toward those who need the system to be different.

When the system is interrupted, people are released from their bondage. Thus, for example, the man with dropsy is healed “and released.” The NRSV translates the verb in Luke 14:4 as “sent him away.” But I think that misses the significance here. A hierarchy is disrupted. A system is interrupted. A man is healed of his disease and released from his bondage to the system. Even if it seems repetitive, given last week’s reading, I would include Luke 14:2-6 in this week’s reading as an illustration of Jesus’ Kin(g)dom program.

One of the challenges in this text, perhaps, is to identify and proclaim the Good News for our [privileged] listeners. I want to think about that and come back to it in the next post.