Reflection for the eleventh Sunday after Trinity and the cost of living crisis.
“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus in Luke 14: 1,7-14.
“We need more than charity, we need social and financial justice, like taxing energy companies who have billions in profits. It feels like I haven’t been given the chance that my preceding generations had. When is it our time for my generation to have a chance?” Francisco Salvatierra, Cardiff teacher.
As one of the first women to be ordained in the Church of England, one of the biggest changes I’ve noticed over the last 32 years is what happens at wedding receptions. When I began, these were usually on the traditional basis of a top table for the bride and groom, best man, bridesmaids and parents with someone at both ends left with only one person next to them. As divorce, step parents, blended families and IVF have become more of a consideration, so circular tables have become common because they help to avoid the complex issue of who has precedence and who sits next to whom. Not that this always solves the social complexities at a meal – after a funeral I had taken, by the time I reached the wake only one seat was left in the room. I wasn’t sure whether it was free or someone had gone to the cloakroom so I asked, “May I sit here?” Back came the unenthusiastic reply: “If you must!”
In the time of Jesus, meals were much more regimented than today and the Gospel is set in the context of a feast on the Sabbath. Jesus has been invited to eat with a leader of the Pharisees and is being watched closely after his recent controversial healing of a disabled woman on the sabbath. However, although the seating plan is for the host to decide, Jesus notices the guests vying for position or finding the best places for themselves – and he immediately speaks out. He tells the parable of guests invited to a wedding, suggesting that they should not choose a place of honour but invite others to take it and may then be elevated by the host rather than demoted by him. Jesus warns that, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (v.11) and he lived this out himself at times such as Maundy Thursday when he washed the disciples’ feet as a servant would do.
Jesus then directly addresses the host, telling him that when he gives a banquet he shouldn’t just invite people he knows who make him feel comfortable and who can return his invitation or enhance his social status. He should invite the poor, the disabled and the blind and the host will be blessed for doing so, says Jesus – he can’t gain from it because they can’t repay him socially. The blessing is not in this life but at the resurrection and the parable is about the heavenly banquet and the values of God’s kingdom, not of this world.
This week, due to the financial complexities of the war in Ukraine, massive rises in energy costs have been announced with a typical annual bill rising by 80% in October from £1,971 to £3,549. Those on pre-paid meters, often the poorest, will find their bills rising even more to £3,608 and there are concerns that this huge cost will result in lives being put at risk, increased pressure on the NHS and hard choices having to be made by millions of people. Organisations, charities and food banks are offering advice and help but Chancellor Nadim Zahari has warned that even those on incomes of £45,000 may need support and that the UK is in “a national economic emergency that could go on for….two years.” This is reflected in many other countries too with the social and economic order that has made lives affordable or comfortable already being completely overturned, causing great anxiety for many before winter has even begun. Russia supplied 40% of the EU’s natural gas last year and the terrible irony of its energy provider Gazprom recently burning off huge volumes of gas is not lost on anyone.
The words of Jesus may seem to offer little comfort in light of all this – who welcomes being humbled? – but the cost of living crisis is already overturning what many people have taken for granted. The long term rethinking it will involve may have hidden blessings too if people consider the welfare of others as well as themselves and choose to offer practical support such as the school uniform recycling schemes springing up. It may also enable some consideration of the eternal values of which Jesus speaks, just as the pandemic made people realise other working possibilities and ways of living. All are invited to the heavenly banquet but will the invitation be accepted and do we even hear the call? As George Herbert puts it in his poem ‘Love bade me welcome’:
“And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat;
So I did sit and eat.”
With my prayers; pob bendith,