(a Lection Reflection on Luke 14)
There’s a great scene in Stephen King’s memoir On Writing where he describes an incident between himself and his wife Tabitha, who is also an accomplished author in her own right. They were taking a trip, and Stephen was driving. He had asked Tabitha to read over some of his latest work, and … well, let’s King himself tell what happened next:
There are some funny parts in it — at least I thought so — and I kept peeking over at her to see if she was chuckling (or at least smiling). I didn’t think she’d notice, but of course she did. On my eighth or ninth peek (I guess it could have been my fifteenth), she looked up and snapped: “Pay attention to your driving before you crack us up, will you. Stop being so ___ needy!”
What makes this so great is that it’s universal. Even though we may not be writing the next best-seller, there are still areas of our lives where we are needy. And, if we’re lucky, we have someone like Tabitha to point out when our neediness is driving our actions. What does this have to do with Jesus’s teaching about the wedding banquet? Just this: People who live out of their neediness do things like Jesus describes. Let’s take a look. Jesus observes people arriving for a dinner party, with Jesus himself as the honored guest. It isn’t mentioned in the text, but we can surmise that there was some jostling of seating arrangements, as everyone wanted to be closest to the host and to Jesus. Jesus then points out a truism that no doubt drew an embarrassed chuckle or two from his listeners:
When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.
Good advice, obviously — but not always observed, right? You’ve seen it happen; you may have even been guilty yourself. “There aren’t assigned seats? Well, then, I’m going to grab a place near the important people!”
As someone who has worked out of neediness in many areas of my life, let me be clear: very often, acts that look like ego from the outside are actually coming from neediness on the inside. That need to be noticed, to seek approval, to feel accepted and important — that neediness can drive lots of awkward, strange, or even bad behavior.
One of the benefits of really understanding our value to God and of growing in our perspective of the world through God’s eyes, is our ability to see scrambling for position as the neediness that it often is. People who are comfortable in their own skin, and who are comfortable in their relationship to God and to God’s world, don’t have to have the approval of others or the seat of importance in order to be okay inside.
It’s not in the text, but I think that Jesus’s disciples were also at this dinner, and his comments were aimed at them, as he watched them push for position around the dinner table. Hadn’t they figured out that power and position were part of the kingdoms of this world, and not part of the Kingdom he wanted them to help bring in? They were still operating out of the earthly paradigm, and out of their own need to fit into it, rather than out of the Kingdom paradigm. So, just in case they had missed it, Jesus puts it a little more plainly:
For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
It’s interesting — we think of humble people as weak, and powerful people as strong. Yet, it is the person who is strongest and most whole on the inside who often is the most humble on the outside. Can you imagine working with a group of people, or an entire church, where no one felt the need to be first, or to grab power, or to seek attention?
We’re all needy. All of us. The question is, how do we deal with it? And, is our relationship to God changing how we deal with it?