Luke 14:1, 7-14
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Have you ever made humble pie? My husband Rob says he’s had to eat it a few times.
How many of us made mud pies when we were kids? That’s literally humble pie. The word humble comes from the Latin word humus which means dirt. Eating humble pie means getting your face in the dirt.
But humble pie is also a real thing.
There’s the band.
But there’s also actually food called humble pie.
I googled to find a recipe and found three very different kinds of pie:
- One had berries and peaches in it.
- Another had spinach, eggs, onions, and cheese.
- The third one had venison, bacon, maple syrup, apples, carrots, potatoes, and beer.
None of these are quite like the original humble pie, though the third one comes closest. Back in the Middle Ages, a nobleman would send a servant out to hunt. Whatever the servant brought back, the nobleman kept the choicest parts for himself, and gave the servant the humbles or ‘umbles, the innards that many of us would toss in the trash today.
That first pie recipe, the one with berries and peaches in it, doesn’t sound much like Middle Ages humble pie, but the recipe writer says that what makes it humble is the way it’s shaped. It’s not in a pie pan, and the dough isn’t done in any sort of decorative way. It’s just folded together on a regular flat pan. The recipe writer explains:
“There’s nothing humble about the ingredients — delicious peaches and berries — but the simple shaping method for the crust keeps this pie from [putting] on airs!”
Being shaped in a way that keeps us from putting on airs is what Jesus is talking about in today’s reading from Luke 14. He’s at a dinner party where people are scrambling to get the best seats. Jesus says, “Don’t!” so you won’t be embarrassed if you get asked to move. Instead of going straight for the seats of honor, we should sit in the least important place. Then if we get asked to move up, we will be honored instead of embarrassed. Verse 11 is a great way to remember this lesson: “All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
Maybe this means we should invite those of you who are sitting in the back today to come up to the front!
We see some helpful ways to live with humility in today’s reading – willingness to be flexible, listening (especially to Jesus), and the need to keep things in perspective.
A dinner table can be like the table in a company boardroom in a way. Everybody has their usual spots. At my house, mom or dad always sat at the head of the table. And if someone who came to visit sat in mom or dad’s place, we’d watch to see whether mom or dad were going to make them move. Just like in the company boardroom. The company president has his or her spot and nobody who wants to keep their job will sit there. That’s what’s happening in the parable Jesus tells. People are sitting in the places of honor, assuming that they have enough standing in this social setting to warrant those honored seats. But Jesus says, don’t be so assuming. Instead, be flexible.
Not that you have to be able to touch your toes or do the splits. It’s mental and emotional flexibility.
A woman was on the return flight from an international trip, comfortable in her aisle seat near the front of the plane. A flight attendant asked her to switch seats so a man in the back could sit with his family, who were sitting in the seats adjacent to her. As the attendant led her to a middle seat near the back of the plane, the woman wasn’t feeling particularly hospitable . . . but decided to make the best of it so the family could stay together. She tried to get comfortable sandwiched between two other passengers. Then the attendant approached her again. The person in the emergency aisle seat did not speak English, which was a requirement to sit in that row. Would she mind moving again? She did, and flew home with an entire row to herself, and extra leg room.
There are lots of other ways to be flexible. I once knew a pastor who was very good about setting boundaries with his congregation. We all knew he’d be unreachable on his day off, and that one day a week he would be behind closed doors working on his sermon. His administrative assistant was very good at running interference to keep people from interrupting the pastor, but sometimes the needs were too great to put them off. One week this happened so much that the interruptions became a part of the sermon. The pastor said he’d been asking God to speak to him, but people kept interrupting. By the end of the day, he realized that God was speaking to him through the interruptions.
How are we being flexible?
Another quality of humility is listening and not assuming we already know everything. In today’s scripture, Jesus is the one to whom we ought to listen, but not everyone did. The pharisees were listening only to try to catch Jesus saying something for which they could arrest him. It’s helpful to listen to wise people, but it’s also good to listen to everyone.
Humble people are good listeners, aren’t they? That’s why I think we need more benches. Benches are great places to sit and listen.
Dr. Vicki Zakrzewski (zahk-shef-skee), Ph.D., the education director of the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley, says that “humility will make you the greatest person ever.” … “When I meet someone who radiates humility, my shoulders relax, my heart beats a little more quietly, and something inside me lets go. Why? Because I know that I’m being fully seen, heard, and accepted for who I am, warts and all—a precious and rare gift that allows our protective walls to come down. Truly humble people are able to offer this kind of gift to us because they see and accept their own strengths and limitations without defensiveness or judgment—a core dimension, according to researchers, of humility, and one that cultivates a powerful compassion for humanity.”
Do you know someone like this?
In today’s scripture, we see that humility also can be a matter of perspective. The pharisees were watching Jesus closely with “antagonistic scrutiny.” Jesus is also watching people, but Jesus sees with different perspective, a deeper understanding, not just observing their actions, but also what those indicate about their attitudes.
Jesus invites us to consider how we value ourselves and others. Is our worth based on the places to which we are invited and the friends we keep? Or on what we possess?
Does money get in the way of kindness and humility? I think it can. Money is a great implement for kindness if we use it to help people, but too often we use it to build up our egos or to make ourselves feel better. We work hard to protect our money. We worry about it. If we have money, we’re by default in a position of power over those who don’t have it. I hate how much we make poor people humble themselves to ask for help. Having money doesn’t make us any better than those who don’t have it.
In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, Moses is giving his last instructions to the Israelites before they cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. One of his instructions is rather humbling. He says, “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Deut. 9:5). The Israelites are not where they are because they’re better than other people. They’re there because they have a job to do, and because God promised that land to their ancestors.
It’s a good bit of perspective for us, too. We’re here because of our ancestors, and the people who built the systems and structures in which we currently live. We have made our own contributions, but even our ability to make those contributions is not just because of our own efforts. We have received favor from those around us, encouragement, financial support. Circumstances were in our favor.
Even someone who is at the very top of the social or political stratus needs to keep this perspective. It’s something that those with great power tend to forget. Everyone answers to God. But what if you believe you answer only to God?
That’s the philosophy of the divine right of kings – believing that the power to rule comes only from God, and therefore the ruler has absolute power. To rebel against the ruler, then, is to rebel against God. The belief was that:
‘The prince, in whom the sovereignty resteth, is to give account unto none,
but to the immortal God alone.
– Jean Bodin, Six Books of the Commonwealth (1606)
Democracy, on the other hand, is a social contract in which the power to rule is given by the people. Everyone is equal, theoretically.
We can put this in perspective remembering that the one who had the most right to absolute sovereignty didn’t claim it. Jesus who was God in the flesh did not let his divinity stop him from humbling himself. This is the basis for the humility that Paul describes in Philippians 2:
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
Jesus ate humble pie.
Humility is one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.
Some Bible versions say gentleness or meekness. One of Bible dictionaries calls it “quiet strength” or “gentle force” that operates best through faith.
So here’s a challenge for us this week:
Let’s trust the Holy Spirit to help us to always be humble and kind.
How will you be humble and kind this week?
 Kathryn Haueisen in The Upper Room Disciplines 2022: A Book of Daily Devotions (p. 415). Upper Room Books. Kindle Edition.