Remember the parable where Jesus warned against recognition in collective worship? It’s a well-known parable from Luke 18, the first in a trilogy of scenes that challenge our assumptions about status and blessing in relationship with others.
In the third scene, Jesus tells a wealthy ruler to “sell everything you have and distribute the money to the poor.” But the wealthy ruler sees the blessing of his financial situation as something he cannot give up in exchange for lower status.
In the second scene, Jesus tells his disciples to “let the little children come to me”. According to the culture of the Roman Empire, babies were considered to have the lowest social status. Thus, the disciples saw the blessing of their social status as male disciples as a sacred excuse to “strictly order” people not to bring their lower-status babies to Jesus.
In the first scene, Jesus tells a parable of two men going to the temple to pray. During their time of adoration, one of them gives thanks saying: “God, I thank you that I am not like the others: thieves, thieves, adulterers or even like this collector of taxes. The other worshiper stands at a distance, does not presume to look up to the highest place, beats his chest and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Jesus responds by saying that the second man is justified, while the first is not. He explains, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.
No random scenes
Although these three stories may seem like random scenes from the life of Jesus, they fit together thematically through their critique of hierarchy. Each story features men who see the world through the prism of hierarchy, their position being superior to others. And at the end of each story, each of these men is confronted with Jesus.
“Each story features men who see the world through the prism of hierarchy, their position being superior to others.”
In each story, Jesus renounces any claim to hierarchy he might have and becomes present in and among those lower in the hierarchy. Jesus becomes poor. He kisses the children. And when it comes to thieves, rogues, adulterers and tax collectors, Jesus does not condemn them. He dines with them. His posture towards them is one of hospitality.
He lies on the ground with them, perhaps leaning on a cushion to ease the pressure of the ground on his muscles after a long walk or a hard day’s work. He likes bread, cereals and vegetables, perhaps cooked in a stew. In spring and summer, he probably drinks fresh goat’s milk or relishes butter, cheese and honey. Due to unpredictable weather, he might develop a fondness for raisins or get a buzz on local wines. And maybe for dessert, he has a thing for freshly baked fig cakes.
But as his body relaxes and experiences the tastes and aromas of food and drink, he is present to his neighbors. Is Jesus introverted or extroverted? Does he prefer small gatherings quietly or does he feel uncomfortable having that first conversation with a stranger? It has a lot of the same human conversations that we have – asking people what they do, where they’re from, who they like, what things they like.
If Jesus is someone people like to hang out with during meals, then he probably likes to laugh, learns to listen, and maybe sometimes cares enough to cry. For him, the blessing is not in his position on his neighbors, but in his presence with them, in and among their gatherings of embodied hunger, thirst and satiation.
In Reaching Out: The Three Movements of Spiritual Life, Henri Nouwen says: “Hospitality means above all the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not about changing people, but about giving them a space where change can take place. It is not a question of bringing men and women to our side, but of offering freedom undisturbed by divisions. It is not a question of dragging our neighbor into a corner where there is no longer any alternative, but of opening up a wide range of options for a commitment of choice. It is not educated bullying with good books, good stories and good works, but the release of fearful hearts so that words can take root and bear much fruit.
“Hospitality is not about changing people, but about giving them a space where change can take place.”
Nouwen adds: “The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create a void, not a frightening void, but a friendly void where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; also free to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the host’s lifestyle, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find their own.
Jesus saw blessing as the presence of God’s hospitality to us that frees us to give space for our social hierarchies to be deconstructed and our inner posture towards one another to open. In his presence rich and poor, old and young, worshiper and adulterer could have a meal together, move towards each other and see what was going on.
What we love
This is not the case in too much of our worship today.
In our society, the male devotees are promote criminalization adulterers, male school principals are justify the violence of spanking children in school, male pastors are promote the violence of possessing women and childrenand executive men are build generational wealth on the back of black and Hispanic women.
In many cases, our worship gatherings have promoted politics and power rather than liberation and love. This happens especially in the words we use when talking about ourselves. Like the worshiper of whom Jesus spoke, we gather in our places of worship to thank God that we are no longer slaves, no longer blind, no longer worthy of eternal damnation. But what we don’t realize is that when we frame our past with these images, we frame the present of our non-evangelical neighbors with these images. We tell them in effect that they are slaves, that they are blind, that they deserve to be damned forever.
We place our status above them. And we don’t recognize the hierarchy that we form because we think we’re grateful to be blessed. When saying, “God, thank you that you are no longer who I was,” our subconscious is saying, “God, thank you that you are not like them. And this is the exact hierarchy that Jesus was overthrowing.
What would our worship look like if, rather than seeing the blessing as reflecting the words and values of power of hierarchical men, we reflected the actions and values of the presence of Jesus, who created a “friendly void where strangers can enter? and to discover oneself as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances? »
Rick Pidcock graduated in 2004 from Bob Jones University, with a Bachelor of Arts in Bible. He is a South Carolina-based freelance writer and a former Clemons Fellow with BNG. He recently completed a Master of Arts in Worship from Northern Seminary. He is a stay-at-home father of five and produces music under the artist name Provoke Wonder. Follow his blog at www.rickpidcock.com.
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