Herb Montgomery | August 26, 2022
To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.
I love the emphasis in the end of this passage. It’s not that “they” will be blessed. It’s that “you” will be blessed. The text defines that blessing as an extrinsic, extra bestowal of blessing at what Luke’s readers understood in their worldview as a future “resurrection of the righteous.” What I would rather have us understand is that there is an intrinsic blessing and value that people of varying experiences can bring to a community.
Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched . . .
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “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. 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. 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. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
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. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:1, 7-14)
In Roman culture, people in the upper classes usually followed a meal with philosophical discussion and debate. The meal that Luke’s gospel describes in this week’s passage involves debate about some of Luke’s ethical favorites: humility and the inclusion of the marginalized, specifically people living in poverty or people with disabilities. These were groups that the historical Jesus had compassion on, and the author of Luke’s gospel is emphasizing them as the objects of compassion too.
This passage doesn’t introduce anything new about Jewish wisdom, but the ethic had deep roots in the Hebrew sacred texts:
Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before his nobles. (Proverbs 25:6-7)
If they make you master of the feast, do not exalt yourself; be among them as one of their number. Take care of them first and then sit down; when you have fulfilled all your duties, take your place, so that you may be merry along with them and receive a wreath for your excellent leadership. (Sirach 32:1-2)
When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but wisdom is with the humble. (Proverbs 11:2)
For you [YHWH] deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down. (Psalms 18:27)
This theme is found across the different version of the Jesus story we have today:
For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)
For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 18:14b)
I do need to revisit something I wrote last week about the Jesus story’s shortcomings regarding people who live with disabilities. Nothing is ever simple, and the Jesus story is complex. While I believe that what I wrote is generally true, I see an exception in this week’s passage. Here in Luke, Jesus does not bringing change to the person with the disability but rather calling for change in the privileged people around that person. Jesus calls them to change their attitudes and include people with disabilities. He is calling for change in how people with disabilities are treated.
Last month’s recommended reading at Renewed Heart Ministries was Nancy L. Eiesland’s ecclesiastically challenging and deeply thought-provoking book The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability. If you did not get a chance to read it last month, I still recommend getting a copy and going through it.
Among many other valuable insights, Eisland identifies three traditional theological barriers for people with disabilities within the Christian tradition:
These three themes—sin and disability conflation, virtuous suffering, and segregationist charity—illustrate the theological obstacles encountered by people with disabilities who see inclusion and justice with the Christian community. (The Disabled God, p. 74)
Let me explain. When people conflate sin and disability, they make disabilities a synonym for sinfulness or shortcomings. In all four of the canonical gospels, the gospel authors both subvert and strengthen that connection (i.e. blindness, Matthew 15:5; inability to be mobile, John 5; deafness, Matthew 13:15). As we’ve discussed, there are also elements in the gospels that can be interpreted as teaching inherent virtue in suffering, and when applied to people with disabilities, that means teaching they were chosen for disability to fulfill some heroic, good, divine purpose (see John 9:3). Finally, what Eiesland names as “segregationist charity” means keeping people with disabilities at arms’ length while calling for charity and withholding full inclusion and accessible justice from them (see John 19:36; Exodus 12:46; and Leviticus 21:16-23). Some faith traditions prevent disabled people from participating in fully ordained ministry.
It cannot be denied that the biblical record and Christian theology have often been dangerous for persons with disabilities. Nor can the prejudice, hostility, and suspicion toward people with disabilities be dismissed as relics of an unenlightened past. Today many interpretations of biblical passages and Christian theologies continue to reinforce negative stereotypes, support social and environmental segregation, and mask the lived realities of people with disabilities. In recent decades, while the problematic nature of the bible record with regard to women has become generally acknowledged, the degrading depictions of people with disabilities are often ignored or, worse, seen as fundamentally accurate to our experience. An uncritical use of the Bible to address the concerns of people with disabilities perpetuates marginalization and discrimination in the name of religion.” (The Disabled God, p. 74-75)
As Jesus followers, we can and must do better.
I include myself in this. I, too, have conflated disability and sin, promoted the virtues of suffering, and withheld full inclusion in the past.
Our reading this week gives us the opportunity to interpret a gospel story in a life-giving way, one that calls for full accessibility and inclusion.
“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. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”
I love the emphasis in the end of this passage. It’s not that “they” will be blessed. It’s that “you” will be blessed. The text defines that blessing as an extrinsic, extra bestowal of blessing at what Luke’s readers understood in their worldview as a future “resurrection of the righteous.”
What I would rather have us understand is that there is an intrinsic blessing and value that people of varying experiences can bring to a community. When a person has a body that is in some way different or disabled in some way in their society, their inclusion and accessibility would bring an inherent blessing to their community. I do not romanticize a person’s disability. Their disability doesn’t mysteriously infuse them with value, but it doesn’t negate or lessen their value either.
Not all bodies are the same. Not all bodies develop the same way. And no body escapes those events that change our bodies. But every body is valuable; every person has something to bring to the table. When we exclude certain people because of their bodies, our communities are the worse off for it. Not only do those excluded suffer loss from being excluded, but the communities that exclude them also suffer loss because of their absence.
This week, rather than focusing on a future extrinsic “repayment” or reward for including those society often labels as “less than” today, may we all begin so see the value of people, regardless of our differences, and especially when those differences relate to the kinds of bodies we’re each living in. There should be a place at the table for all for all of us, where all of us can bring to our communities what we have to offer, where every one of us gains the blessing of both giving and receiving. The intrinsic value of every person calls us as Jesus followers, especially, to ensure an attitude of inclusion and concrete means of accessibility as well.
I believe this is possible and the spirit of our most cherished Jesus stories calls us to it. To the degree that our communities are accessible to people whose bodies are different or disabled, to that same degree we will intrinsically experience either blessing or loss.
1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.
2. Share an experience where your awareness of the intrinsic value of people who were different from yourself was broadened or deepened. Discuss with your group.
3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?
Thanks for checking in with us, today.
Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.
I love each of you dearly,
I’ll see you next week
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