On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, 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. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
Today the Church celebrates St Chad. One of the Celtic Saints, Chad was a Bishop for whom many churches and wells were named in Mercia. He was Bishop of Lichfield in Mercia. According to James Keifer “he travelled about as he had when Archbishop of York, always on foot (until the Archbishop of Canterbury gave him a horse and ordered him to ride it, at least on long journeys), preaching and teaching wherever he went. He served there for only two and a half years before his death, but he made a deep impression.” Ok so this is where we make a statement about the fact that he must have made a ‘deep impression’ if they named wells after him! ( ba dum boom) Actually, it is said that wells were often dug where need and named after someone that they might be remembered when people stopped to have their thirst quenched
It is serious stuff when the Archbishop of Canterbury orders you to ride a horse! Perhaps that is what prompted the writers of the lectionary to choose the gospel reading that they did. As quoted above Jesus tells a parable about choosing the lesser part. He reminds his listeners that in God’s Kingdom, it is not the boastful, arrogant, and proud that get elevated, but the humble, the vulnerable, the weak. Jesus makes clear that those who exalt themselves will be humbled. It would appear that Chad got that gospel message loud and clear. It too the ABC to convince him to use the luxury of a horse.
I wonder how this message squares with those of us who are in positions of leadership today? At times I am concerned that we have forgotten this message completely. Have you had a look at what bishops and priests parade around in nowadays? Any notice about how we seat, Bishops, archdeacons, canon, priest, and deacons at any diocesan event? I say this as one of them. But I also share this as one who has been ridiculed for not having the ‘proper’ clergy attire. Not enough black, not enough brocade, not the right vestments, wrong colour of clergy shirt! I wonder if we clergy understand how it looks if we go to the front of line, accept preferential treatment while others wait, and others cannot go where we go? Do we seriously believe that we have special status? Perhaps Chad has something important to teach us. Our status is the lesser part. Our status is to be humble. We are servants. Chad got it…. he was humble and had to be invited (ordered) to take on the luxury of a horse. I worry that we have forgotten what it looks like to humble ourselves in our haste for status and exaltation. “Forget the horse – I’ll take the SUV to the club Bishop!”
This of course is also true for lay folks. We are all called to take a humble approach to our faith. We are called to invite to the feast those that others have forgotten. Once we forget that we have taken the position of the exalted.
As a Lenten discipline, let us….each of us…. need to be humbled.
Almighty God, whose servant Chad, for the peace of the Church, Relinquished the honours that had been thrust upon him, only to be rewarded with equal responsibility: Keep us, we pray, from thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, and ready at all times to step aside for others, in honour preferring one another, that the cause of Christ may be advanced; in the name of him who washed his disciples’ feet, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.