In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells a group of fellow dinner guests that they would do well to sit among the ordinary invitees rather than presuming to sit, unbidden, at the head table. He then proceeds to tell the same guests to open their own homes to the poor and powerless rather than entertaining only their family and rich acquaintances.
We often interpret Jesus’ words to mean that we should be humble. The reason for such virtue is generally vague. Sometimes the idea seems to be that self-promotion irritates God or that humility oils the gears of communal living. Jesus had something more important in mind.
Luke preceded his story of Jesus at dinner with a series of teachings about God’s coming Kingdom and the importance of aligning oneself with that impending future. Jesus wasn’t trying to iron out wrinkles in the social fabric. He wasn’t a first century Emily Post promoting etiquette or Stephen Covey promising personal success. He was God’s prophet announcing the promise and possibility of a new human future. Everything he said and did including his prohibitions against placing one’s self and one’s interests before others’ and one’s friends before the poor and powerless conveyed that message.
Jesus taught love our neighbors and enemies not to make us nicer people but to unite us with God’s transformation of the world. Active love and respect for others was the heart of his message. It was and still is the absolutely necessary key to the future God wills for us.
In all our struggles and disagreements, in our efforts to change the way that the world works, in our determination to see justice triumph it is our respect and love of those with whom we deal that determines whether or not we are working in God’s Spirit. And that, when all is said and done, makes all the difference.