Google search has failed me. It hardly ever happens. I was searching for the lyrics of a song that I remember from my youth. It would have been a very, very early song in the contemporary Christian movement, and I have no idea now who might have done it.
The words that have stuck with me are these: “When the house is burning to the ground, there ain’t no time to stand around arranging all the pictures on the wall.” The song was talking about the passing away of this world and the coming of Christ, promoting the urgency toward the pressing Christian work that we should feel as God’s people.
Well, in years of church ministry, I’ve often felt like I was arranging pictures on walls when it just really wasn’t the biggest priority in light of God’s grand plan. The “pictures” were too often related to “worship wars” about styles of music and instrumentation. Sometimes it was about which Bible version to use. There were “pictures” about dress codes. Other times it was what sort of Bible studies to offer … church gathered, home groups, topical classes verses age-group-related structures. If you could fight about it, Christians could make a “picture” of it and then argue about where it should hang on the wall … all the while ignoring the smell of smoke from the flames just outside.
These issues I fear too often replicated what Jesus saw in the Pharisees. In three sections of our reading today in Luke 14, we see them concerned about strictures related to law, achieving personal honor, and being too narrowly focused about personal wealth and associations.
First, as Jesus is in the home of a prominent Pharisee on a Sabbath, in front of him was a man with physical suffering. Perhaps he was a plant, to see if Jesus would heal on that day and thereby be accused of breaking the Sabbath. Christ heals the man, then asking the dinner crowd if they would rescue a son or donkey that fell into a well on this day of the week. Haha! Would they actually say to a son, “Sorry dude, hang on until tomorrow when I can go to work on getting you out”? Well, of course not! Some things are bigger than legalistic rule-keeping… like compassion.
Secondly, noticing their proclivity to posture toward getting the best seats at the table, Jesus tells them to take an unusually low seat. With a story, he illustrates how that will lead to greater honor when the host tells you to move up. This also alleviates the risk of being too high and suffering the shame of being sent to the minor leagues of seat selection. Work at being humble, not at getting your own “picture” prominently placed.
Thirdly, it was the behavioral pattern of the Pharisaic class of people to only invite their own type to dinners, knowing they would be invited back. It’s the old country club attitude that has no regard for different or disenfranchised peoples. Get outside the clique that contains only your own pictures and look to be generous toward totally different people.
There really is not enough time in our brief lives and our passing church associations to be undone by all the little stuff that distracts from being on mission for God, especially in a world that increasingly affects the olfactory senses with flames from hell! We need to excel in compassion, humility and generosity. We need to excel in deference preference – putting aside petty personal tastes to accomplish the greater good of rescuing people on the fast track to damnation and eternal separation from God. Forget the pictures!
Luke 14:1 – One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.
5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6 And they had nothing to say.
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 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. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “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. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”