Ego Etiquette for the Kingdom Table

by Rev. Ellie Barrington - September 8, 2013 A reflection on Luke 14:1, 7-15 Listen to the audio recording

“Be humble before God, yet great in God.” – A Course in Miracles

The writer of the Gospel of Luke loved a dinner party with Jesus! He located many of Jesus’ most important teachings at table. In his Book of Acts, he lets us know that “the real test of whether a church really included persons who were different, was not at the point of baptizing them, but of eating with them.”

In this Gospel, meals have especially profound practical and theological significance. For Luke, who was so concerned for the poor, the bread always points to our crucial decisions about who gets fed. And those marginalized people he has Jesus invite, are meant to challenge our sense of who belongs in the social ‘seating order’ of Jesus’ Kingdom, as well as where we belong.

Hearing this passage, no doubt some of you are free associating with a time when you arrived at a dinner party and didn’t know where to sit. Or maybe where to sit in the pews at church? Front or back? How will your choice affect how you see – and how you are seen? Some of you are thinking about struggling with the seating plan for a wedding supper. Who has to be at the head table? Versus who wants to be? Or who deserves to be?

I read this passage a few weeks ago and thought about my mom saying recently, that she needed to have some people over, because “If you don’t ask people back, you stop getting asked.” I guess that’s an age old social concern!

At first glance, these parables take us to practical experiences in our own lives, just as they were meant to engage their 1st Century listeners with situations they recognized. Everyone understood then, about how much wedding banquets mattered. They were the major community opportunities to feed and be fed. Everyone understood close up about hunger too. And in village life, one couldn’t help but know the social impact of not being on the invitation list.

But let’s not stop at the literal associations or we might start a stampede for the back pews! Jesus’ parables often reversed the social norms and turned everyday expectations upside down, but his challenge always went to a deeper-than literal level. Clearly, Jesus isn’t giving lessons in social graces here.

Today’s two parables at the table are his deeply demanding ‘Kingdom etiquette.’ The first one, about where we sit, calls us to cultivate the quality of genuine humility. The second, about who we invite, shows how true humility allows radical inclusivity to happen.

Jesus’ table talk is not about acting humble before others, but about becoming humble before God. Real humility is that shining quality that emerges when our ego – our pride – stops interfering with our holy connections with each other. When we recognize the truth – that we are really One in God and thus One with All – we are safe to just be our humble self. We shine with the spark of God we are, an essential, integral and unique part-icipant in the Kingdom.

But humility is a practice, a lifelong learning to live into our Godself, because our ego, our pride, the false sense that we are just separate individuals, insists that we must protect our place. Our egos, untrained by spiritual practice, will always be on guard, insisting that we need to compare and compete, to judge or blame our self or the other, in order to be safe and OK.

In her now classic 1990’s spiritual book about “A Course in Miracles”, the bestseller “A Return to Love,” Marianne Williamson explains this, about the shining quality of humility: “The ego interferes with the clear expression of our power, by trying to get us to add something to it. This ploy thwarts our capacity to express who we really are, and to accept full recognition from others in return.”

Ego gets in the way of loving relationship. When we are struggling with ego or pride, she says: “Its easy to distinguish our grandeur from our grandiosity, because love is returned, and pride is not.”

Ego-freed, we connect as our best Spirit Self with others. Maybe we should pray ‘Deliver us from ego?’

Jesus’ parable tells us that whenever our misguided ego pushes us to seek a higher place at the table, we are set for a fall from the community of grace. Our ego-driven goals – to climb the social order, or the job chart, or economic ladder, will not only overshadow the light of those we leave behind, it will inevitably obscure our shining to others.

So often, social competition is a loose-loose proposition! Our supposed inferiors don’t get to know how wonderful we really are – nor do we get to see their shining light. When we play any ‘musical chairs’ game that excludes some from the full circle of community life, we all lose some of our co-creative collective human potential. Because every child of God is a vital part-icipant, born with something unique to contribute.

This is where Jesus’ teachings about humility leads to radical inclusivity.

Every age has its debates about who needs to be affirmed with a special place, so that we may all share their shining. These debates are lived out in all sorts of ‘invitation lists.’ Who is to be included?

We know from the Bible that in the 1st Century, there were big debates about whether the Jewish sect of Jesus’ Followers should include the Gentiles – ‘uncircumcized’ and ‘unclean’ as they were! What if those debates had gone the other way? We wouldn’t be here, and probably nobody in our time would have heard of Jesus and his radical Kingdom.

Today, I hear Jesus’ challenging us to invite and affirm several groups who may seem like ‘others.’ The poor, for sure. The elderly who so often feel left out. Those with mental illnesses. Today’s epidemic among us. And of course the Gay community – with all the LGBTQ variations that we need to understand better and affirm with open, humble invitations.

Today, I hear Jesus’ parables calling us to heal our ego and shed our pride with prayer and spiritual practice. Only then will we be secure enough in our true place in God, to feel safe and be humble. Humble enough to offer genuine invitations to those ‘others’ who seem different or difficult, but who will bring us a full spectrum of God’s light. Some will no doubt need a special, accessible seat at the table. Some will need to be invited and affirmed again and again, in order to trust that they really belong.

Are we willing to do the work on our self, that will enlarge our invitation lists? Are we spiritually strong enough yet, to offer someone our privileged seat? Maybe even give up our place at the head of the table?

Communion is our spiritual practice for living like that. The place where Jesus overturned normal table etiquette, so that all shall be fed.

This table is the place where we practice leaving our ego’s fears behind, to humbly participate in God’s love shining through everyone. Let’s live into Jesus’ table etiquette for the Kingdom. We can turn our ego’s order upside down, to actually taste and touch and see, the divinity and grandeur of all of us grubby and great humanity.


“The cosmic spotlight isn’t pointed at you. It radiates from within you.” – Marianne Williamson in ‘A Return to Love.’

“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and the Maserati will get there when it is supposed to.” Marrianne Williamson in ‘A Return to Love.’ P. 192


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