By and large, Jesus tends to stay on message throughout the course of his three years of active ministry. Whether in parable, teaching, argument, or aside, his message tends to be about the immanence of the Kingdom of God and the preparations one should make for its arrival. There are times, however, when you dig down into the nuts and bolts of what Jesus is actually saying and things get complicated. Sunday’s Gospel lesson is one such occasion as we hear Jesus flip flop a bit on the question of motivation.
In his teaching about table manners, Jesus suggests that guests choose a lower seat so that when we are invited higher, we might be honored in the sight of everyone. Pausing only to turn his attention to the host of the dinner party, Jesus then tells him to not invite people who can invite you in return, but instead to invite those who are often left off the invite list. Of course, anyone who has hung around religious circles much realizes that the question of motivation is ever present. We shouldn’t follow Jesus to get out of hell, but there are plenty of churches that preach that message. We shouldn’t do good works to earn God’s love, but there are plenty of sermons that imply that very thing. We shouldn’t take pictures of people who don’t look like our congregation in order to make the website more diverse, but, well…
Read as a whole, the message of Jesus on the topic of motivation can be complicated. Do we sit lower in order to be invited higher? More often than not, we will find ourselves still seated in that lower place when the meal is all over. Do we invite the poor who cannot repay us? Absolutely, but that probably doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also invite the rich and the middle class who need to know the love of Jesus as well. In the end, I find that balancing my motivations is of utmost importance. As that great theologian Ice Cube once said, “You better check yo self before you wreck yo self.” Or in Rite I language:
If you are volunteering in that ministry because your mother told you to 50 years ago or because it is where there is power to be had or because it is the group in which to see and be seen; well, you probably ought to check your motivation and find something else to do. If you are engage in ministry to make yourself feel better, to get your face in the newsletter, or to make your neighbor feel guilty; thou has already wrecked thyself. If, however, your motivation is love of God and of neighbor, then it doesn’t much matter if you are the President of the Standing Committee or locking up after a parish potluck, your name has been honored where in matters – in the kingdom of God.