“What’s in it for me?” We might not say it. But we’re thinking it. Or at least feeling it. All the time. We give to charities for the tax deduction. We cover for someone at work so they’ll cover for us later. Even when we’re being nice and hospitable to strangers, we’re really just hoping the favor gets returned in kind one day. Motivation for anything comes down to me, myself, and I.
Jesus has something to say about all this selfishness. In Luke 14 he goes to a dinner party at a rich man’s house and watches as all the guests fight over the best seats, the places of honor next to the host. So he calls them out, and then he goes after the host for inviting people just like him. What’s the purpose of this dinner party, anyway? Is it to truly fellowship together and share a hearty meal? Or is it some charade designed to further your political standing in the community? Nothing is ever as it seems.
What if this Jesus walked around today? What if this Jesus walked into our churches? What if Jesus listened to the way we talked to each other? I doubt the Jesus of this story would make us feel good. I bet we’d have a lot of explaining to do.
Somehow we’ve built our entire value system around the “Kingdom of Me” and we’ve forgotten all about the “Kingdom of We,” let alone the Kingdom of God. So should we feel bad? I’m not so sure Jesus has anything to say about how we should feel, at least not here. Instead he tells us to consider how we make others feel (especially in his name!).
In this story, both the guests and the host get called out. In French, the word for “guest” and “host” are the same. I think they might be on to something. We’ve all been in the presence of someone who can make you feel like you matter, or at least we’ve all encountered the opposite. When I was in college, a famous poet stopped by the chapel to give a lecture and read some of his poetry. Afterward, I walked up to him and struck up a conversation. We had a lot in common, and he seemed very interested in my work. Then there came an awkward moment when he asked what I did at the college. When he found out I was only a student, the conversation ended almost immediately. His kind expression faded, and he began looking around the room for someone else to talk to. I had become a waste of his time.
How do we make people feel when we talk to them? Is the conversation one-sided and all about me? Or do we make them feel like they matter? Like they have been invited into our presence, and that their presence is a gift? The truth is that we are a guest and host wherever we go. And the honor is all ours.