Meditation on Luke 14 (Part 1)
Jesus teaches us a parable here about a dinner party. He teaches us that when we are invited to a dinner party, we should always choose the lowest seat. It’s the image of a man who is invited to a dinner party and assumes the seat of honor. When he is told to move from that place to a lower seat, and each time this happens, he is further humbled. Jesus tells us that the preference would be to begin in the lower seat and thus be honored if we are told to assume the higher, rather than this supposition that we deserve the higher to begin with. Ultimately, it’s this idea that the higher our opinion of ourselves, the easier it is to suffer from disgrace and dishonor when we are humbled. The self-righteous man caught in his hypocrisy is far more greatly disgraced than the humble man when he is rebuked.
This is an important lesson for we in Christ. See, especially in our culture where we base everything on this “obsessive comparison disorder,” it’s so easy for us to fall into Satan’s trap, his temptation towards self-righteousness. It’s so tempting for us to find our holiness in comparing ourselves to another’s shortcomings. It’s ever so easy for us to proclaim that we are better than anyone else because of our convictions, to make statements like “I don’t watch that, because I’m a Christian.” It’s an afterthought almost for us to look at someone else’s missteps and trumpet our own righteousness in comparison. We cast judgment on those who are caught up in addiction, on those who are caught up in adultery and fornication, on those who have demons that they are struggling against, and see ourselves as “better” than them because of it, thereby feeling as though we have accomplished something. It is much better that we should maintain a clear account and awareness of our own sinfulness, and then, out of the humility of our own awareness; extend our love humbly to others, rather than our judgments. Chrysostom teaches us that the Church is a hospital to heal the sick, not a court to judge them. A cancer patient would never mock someone whose cancer is further progressed than theirs, neither would they judge someone whose cancer refuses to go into submission. Of course not, they would extend their hand lovingly and say, “can I get you anything?” They would offer to help and attempt to build one another up. So, why would we, aware of our own sinfulness, judge someone else whose sin has progressed further? Why would we slander someone whose struggles with their sin have been less successful than ours? Shouldn’t we instead, as the cancer patient, also lovingly reach out to help them? To help them through it. To build them up so that they would have a better chance at overcoming?
There’s a story of a monk who lived in a monastery, and each night the other brothers would see him drunk. And then one day he fell asleep in the Lord. The brothers approached the elder of the monastery and asked, “aren’t you happy that the drunkard is finally dead? He was an embarrassment to the monastery.” The elder explained to them that the monk had been very sick when he was a child, and his parents had given him alcohol to quiet him down, which as he grew older developed into an addiction to alcohol. Once he joined the monastery, he fought and fought against that addiction, and by the grace of God, had gotten down to one drink a day before he died. And the elder taught them, it is not for us to judge him for the work that Jesus had done in the man’s life, because we do not know where someone has come from or what has lead them to where they are. He explained to them that this man had spent his entire life there in repentance, struggling against these demons, while still obediently obeying all of the rules of the monastery and laboring intensely for the sake of all, always willing to help anyone who ever needed anything and never judging anyone. Because he was aware of his own sinfulness, he never looked on any other to judge them, and because of his weakness, he saw the power and grace of God. The brothers had fallen into the sin of pride and self-righteousness, and because of that, they saw only a drunk of whom they were embarrassed.
When we see someone who is struggling with something, may we all remember this lesson. May we not see someone as their sin, but rather, focusing on our own sins, see each person as someone who needs love, who needs prayer, who needs brothers and sisters who will build them up, rather than judge them. May we remain aware of our own shortcomings, and allow our weakness to humble us to where we see only God’s grace, working in us and in everyone around us. May we truly display the love of Christ to all the world, through our words, through our thoughts, through our actions, through our very lives.
Christ is in our midst.