If those around Jesus were watching him closely,
he was watching them more closely still.

Watching them scramble for the place of honor.

Watching them take the bread and the cup
before everyone else.

Watching them get their fill of food
while others had to be satisfied
with what was left
when the picked over dishes
made it to their end of the table.

What Jesus,
what any person
sitting at this table,
—any such table—
is a bunch of people who live by the perspective that,
yes, there is food enough for everyone,
but an extra special amount for them.

They call it godly.
Call it justice.
Even venture to call it equality.
Jesus calls it what it really is:

If we’re sitting at the place of honor.
If we’re sitting at the place of power.
If we’re sitting at the place
where we affect everyone who comes after us,
that’s privilege.

There’s no getting around it.
Geometry puts someone at the head of a table.
And if not geometry, protocol.
There is always someone who is fed first.
Always someone fed last.

But in the kingdom of heaven,
the first shall be last.
And the last shall be first.

In the kingdom of heaven
the forgotten and the outcast are welcome in its portals.

In the kingdom of heaven
the least of these matters most.

Sitting at table with these ravenous magnates,
Jesus suggests
what they should do with the power,
the authority,
the privilege
they possess.

Suggests what is actually godly.
What would build up the kingdom
where the least of these matters most.

Sit at a lower seat.

Sit at a lower seat
so that persons with greater honor
have their proper place at table.

Wait, did he say
persons of greater honor?!

Saint Luke doesn’t record the response of anyone there that day.
But we can surmise
everyone sitting at the head of the table
is dumbfounded by Jesus’ suggestion
there would be persons of greater prominence,
higher stature than any of them.

We might be dumbfounded as well.
The richest of the rich are at the top.
The powerful of the powerful enjoy every freedom.

As a society we’ve largely come to accept
these kind of arrangements as inevitable.
For centuries the monarchical church
call the arrangement “ordained by God.”
And participated in it, too.

Our society is sick from striving for
that power and prestige and privilege.

We praise the table’s seating arrangement.
We find all sorts of ways to explain it.
We even blame the victims of its shortcomings.

But here’s the thing.
And its the thing many don’t understand,
or don’t care to observe.

The persons of honor Jesus is talking about.
The more distinguished are.

The poor.
The crippled.
The blind.
The distinguished is the one who has next to nothing,
but tends to what she has better than the one who has plenty.

The distinguished is the infirm woman
those at the head of this table derided
before sitting down to dinner.
The one who waited 18 long years
for someone to acknowledge her struggle,
for someone to heal her,

The distinguished is the one
who went off and squandered his vast inheritance
—could have all things—
but came back knowing
he couldn’t live without his father’s love.
How does the song put it?
“Was lost by now am found.
Was blind by now I see.”

As those who sit with Jesus watch him,
and he watches them more closely, still,
Jesus’ point is plain as day:
we can see these problems,
these ailments—
see all around us the distorted thinking
that values the life-forsaking
and devalues life-giving.
And we feel it, too.

Just as we can see and feel
how we devour one another.
See and feel
when we use our privilege for our own good,
rather than for the good of those
at the other end of the table.

It’s the perspective that holds Christianity
to be threatened
by Judaism or Islam.

The perspective that believes
the economic problems in our land
stems from immigrants.

The perspective that wonders
why #BlackLivesMatter
and suggests our attention ought be on #AllLivesMatter.

Sisters and brothers,
mark Jesus’ point well.
When the weak have a place,
we’re all stronger.

When the newcomer is given authority,
we are all more vibrant.

When the most vulnerable are protected and honored,
we are all safer and better off.

That’s the table, the kingdom, the society, the life
where the least of these matter most.

And where the least matter most,
all have plenty to eat,
plenty good things,
plenty of life.

That’s what we try to embody here at Saint Peter’s.
We don’t always achieve it.
But our lack of achievement,
ought not be a reason to abandon the goal.

In fact,
it ought push us more and more toward it.
Make us more and more ready to witness
and influence the places of power
around us and above us.

Because Christ’s promise.
Christ’s promise on the cross.

The way of giving up power.
The way of doing for others.
The way of dying for others.

That’s the way of life.

It sounds strange.
Well, in comparison to the way the world thinks,
And sometimes the church thinks,
it is strange.

But it is life.

Life given.
Life gained.

How does Saint Luke put it:
“you will be blessed,
because they cannot repay you.”

Jesus is wise to make this important point at the Table.
Because there’s no better place
to experience that kind of life
than at Table.

There’s no better place to learn the ways of this sort of living,
than in sharing the bread and the cup
of the one who first gave it to us.

There is no better way to take on the ways of Christ,
and the kingdom of Christ,
than by taking Christ’s very self,
to ourselves.

And becoming it.

Becoming as bread for the hungry.
Becoming as a host who thinks first of the guest.
Becoming as one who gives everything
and in doing so, experiences perfect freedom.

Expecting nothing.
But getting more than enough in return.

Time and again,
the human family has tried to many other ways
and has always come up short.
Why not give God’s way a try.

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter’s Church
In the City of New York

15th Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sirach 10:12-18
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-16
Saint Luke 14:1, 7-14