Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Two startling revelations made it into the news this week: Kim Kardashian-West revealed that when she was younger she became addicted to fame and money and Miley Cyrus concluded that after seven years of marriage, she needed some “me time.”
While the cult of celebrity seems amplified by social media and internet click-bait, it is nothing new. Alexander the Great named over 70 cities after himself. Roman Emperor Octavian re-named himself Augustus and sculptors drew his favor by placing his image on statues of gods. His celebrity happened by design: Augustus demanded that he be worshiped as a god born of a virgin mother and destined to live forever.
Proverbs warns against seeking that kind of status, not only as a way of avoiding the inevitable embarrassment that happens when the mighty fall, but also as a way of building community through egalitarian relationships. So while it seems like a simple bit of conventional wisdom, our first lesson this week, placed in it’s fuller context is anything but conventional. The conventional wisdom of the time was to align oneself closely with those with power, wealth, position or prestige.
I am particularly drawn to the study of the 16th century. Yes there was the upheaval created by Martin Luther and the reformers, but I am really fascinated by the Tudor dynasty, especially the reign of Henry VIII. Employing the same conventional wisdom Proverbs warns against, Hampton Court was filled with those attempting to gain entry into the king’s inner circle. Those that got his royal approval thought themselves on top of the world – at least until Henry changed his mind. Many of them found their way to the Tower, some found their heads on public display on the bridge.
Our passage from Proverbs, echoed in the instruction of Jesus in the gospel this week, is not about being exalted and getting the seat next to the celebrity. It is the unconventional wisdom of taking the lower seat, assuming the humble role, not playing the competitive game of climbing over others to get to the top. And just to put some icing on Jesus’ unconventional cake, he tells all those people competing to look important that when they host a banquet, they should invite the poor instead of – to use today’s language – the influencers.
Here is a bit of unconventional wisdom from 12th century Sephardic Jewish philosopher Maimonides:
“When a person eats and drinks in celebration of a holiday, he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is [not indulging in] rejoicing associated with God’s command, but rather the rejoicing of his own belly.”