One by one each leader went around the circle with a personal introduction, each trying to “one up” the previous by name-dropping, referencing their own books, and touting their long list of expansive ministry accomplishments. Each was jockeying for prime position around the circle of invited youth ministry dignitaries.
As the time for introductions neared where I was sitting, I nervously rehearsed what I would say. I too felt compelled to grasp for a way into a seat of honor, to garner adulation, to stand out from the others in some unique way. The turn came for the guy sitting to my right. I discovered later that he had more accollades than any of us. But to introduce himself, he simply shared a few minutes about his family and concluded by expressing how honored he felt to have been invited to such a strategic gathering.
And then it was my turn…
I had been invited to a national summit of youth ministry leaders who had gathered on a lake outside of Las Vegas. When “my friend to the right” had completed his simple and humble introduction, the entire atmosphere around the circle changed. The walls of pretense came down and smiles and laughter ensued. I totally forgot what I had internally rehearsed and simply said something from my heart that came from a disarmed place of freedom. I had been released from the prison of having to perform and impress.
What was modeled for me that day so many years ago was a mark of liberated leadership. In our Gospel text for this week, Jesus points to that kind of royal marking.
It’s the Sabbath again and Jesus is being carefully watched as he goes to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee. He senses the angst in the hearts of those in attendance who are trying to maneuver into position nearest to the host. Jesus decides to expose those present at the dinner to the idolatry and rivalistic posturing of their internal ranking system by telling a pair of parables. While acknowledging the reality of ranking and thus not condemning the practice per se, Jesus invites a kind of humility, where the host determines one’s place rather than one needing to anxiously grasp for it.
Reveling in Non-Rivalry
Jesus is not acting as a first century Martha Stewart simply giving advice on hospitality etiquette; rather, he seems to be unveiling what it means to live freely in the Kingdom of God. An atmosphere of peace ensues when guests are released from the burden to compete for recognition, and are able to simply revel in the joy of having been invited. In addition, when a host sends out invitations to a party without concern about return on investment, the markings of Gospel freedom are evident.
The freedom of Christ leads to the love of Christ. Revelry in such love frees us in turn to love and serve others without falling into the trap of rivalistic posturing. If freedom does not lead to love and service in altruistic ways, it is not the freedom of Christ. When we are free in Christ we lay down our lives in love and service to others. We are released from the shackles of a deadening allegiance to a muscular Christianity that needs to prove something to the world.
Jesus invites us to consider what life and leadership looks through the winsome, life-giving lens of having discovered ourselves loved by the one who sets us free. Therein lies the royal markings left by the virtuous cycle of the Gospel.
“We see the arrow’s flight, but not the bow. What is manifest, not the source.
But don’t discard the arrow. Notice the royal markings.”