Jesus went on to address a parable to the guests, noticing how they were trying to get a place of honor at the table.
“When you’re invited to a wedding party, don’t sit in the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished has been invited. Otherwise the hosts might come and say to you, ‘Make room for this person,’ and you would have to proceed shamefacedly to the lowest place. What you should do is go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host approach you they’ll say, ‘My friend, come up higher.’ This will win you the esteem of the other guests. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
|Pride by Jeff Ball|
This is a parable of reversal. “The exalted will be humble and the humble will be exalted.” It fits with Jesus’ emphasis that the meek will inherit the earth and the last shall be first. Here we encounter the quintessential Jesus of the first three gospels. A Jesus on the margin of society calling the disenfranchised to be comfortable in our humility for in God's heart we are exalted and first.
I embrace the “insignificant Jesus” and applaud the synoptic gospels ability to keep him on society’s margins. Any attempt to make Jesus the center of power or even the center of history is a violation of the homeless and wandering messiah of first century Palestine. When we fail to recognize that Jesus lived on the margins we fail to recognize Jesus at all. I celebrate the disenfranchised Christ who loved and laughed and suffered as all disenfranchised people do.
The black liberation theologian James Cone was correct when he famously concluded that “Jesus is black.” Cone validated this connection as a way of involving the life and work of Jesus in the marginalized populations of African-Americans. In this same vane we might also declare that Jesus is “queer” in that he faced the same rejection and prejudice from a fearful society as we face.
While I rejoice in a Christ who speaks not from the center but from the margins, I must confess there is a part of this parable that I find a little too meek. Waiting for someone else to invite me to a place of honor seems to give this “someone else” a lot of power over me. Queer Pride has taught me not to relinquish such power to others as if the best I can ever hope for is the leftovers from the straight table. Pride has taught me how to claim my seat at the table of humanity without apology or self-reproach. I encounter the striking photograph by Jeff Ball as Pride rightfully asserting itself not to shock but to give texture and depth to what detractors may perceive as a washed-out or washed-up life.
In my Queer Pride, I wrestle with this parable. Why should I give up my seat because “someone else” simply says I should? Why can’t the feast’s hosts move if they are that disturbed by my presence? Why must I yield to some contrived heterosexual system of honor? It is at this point that the parable wrestles back.
Humility – particularly as Jesus deals with it – has nothing to do with self-effacing and self-condescending attitudes. Rather, for Jesus humility has to do with owning your greatness and knowing when to yield that greatness. Ball's photograph hints of great erotic energy and passion but is not pornographic for the energy yields so we may enjoy an encounter with the subject as a person and not a thing.
For those of the christian faith, in the metaphor of a high understanding of Jesus, humility is knowing you’re the Second Person of the Trinity, through whom and for whom creation exists, yet yielding to be disenfranchised and marginalized to the point of execution. For me this is the great mystery of our faith: God’s risk in self-negation without a guarantee of receiving the self back. It is a testament to uber humility.
We begin to understand this parable is not just about place settings at a party. This parable is a strong comment on culture and society where the marginalized have value and greatness in abundance along with an appropriate sense of humility. Pride and humility are not adversaries in competition for our allegiance. They are attitudes which help us to own ourselves while allowing others to own themselves.