Updated: Jan 31
It has been said that it is a male trait to not ask for directions, when lost while driving in strange surroundings. It seems as if it is a sign of weakness to pull into a gas station, stop the car, get out, go up to someone and ask, “Where am I and how do I get to where I want to go?”
Perhaps this is a sense of pride, and to ask for direction is an admission of having done wrong.
If you are familiar with the Wisdom of Sirach, it is written, “Pride was not created for human beings.” Sirach even says, “The beginnings of human pride is to forsake the LORD.” That passage is an alternate reading for today, in the Revised Common Lectionary, and human pride fits into today’s theme.
As a child, when I was growing up there were cartoons on television for entertainment. I would watch them after school, but the real time for some serious cartooning was Saturday morning. Maybe you were like me and had your favorite cartoons?
I loved to watch the Hannah-Barbera cartoon “Quick Draw McGraw,” where the main character was a horse, who was an Old West sheriff. He had a sidekick named Baba Louie, who was a Mexican burro. In every episode Quick Draw would say, “I’ll do the thinning around here Baba Louie.” The comedy came from Quick Draw being luckier than smart, as his “thinnin” usually got him in more trouble.
Another cartoon I liked was called “Tooter Turtle,” which featured a dimwitted turtle named Tooter, who was always dreaming up how he could be someone better than he was – like a knight, a gunslinger, a highway patrolman, a diver, etc. To be such a hero figure, Tooter would visit Mr. Wizard, who was something like an alligator wearing a wizard cone hat and a robe. With the wave of his magic wand, Mr. Wizard would transform Tooter Turtle into what he dreamed he wanted to be. Of course, Tooter always got in way over his head and ended up calling out for help. His call, “Mister Wizard!” brought him back home to reality. Mr. Wizard would advise Tooter, “Be just what you is, not what you is not.”
Both of those cartoon showed how pride is a negative aspect of humanity. It is a form of self-destructive vanity, where we think we are better than others, or even ourselves. Quick Draw took pride in his cunning and intelligence. Tooter Turtle took pride in his dreams of self-grandeur.
In Jeremiah, today we read how the people of Judah were forsaking the LORD through human pride. They “went after worthless things … and became worthless themselves.”
What God was not hearing from his people was, “God help us!” They did not call out in desperation, “Where is the LORD?” Their pride kept them from realizing they were in danger.
Even the priests of the Temple of Jerusalem had forsaken the LORD through human pride. They advised the rulers of Judah, and in turn the people, that it was okay to keep off course and steer the ship into the unseen rocks ahead. They did not yell out, “Where is the LORD to save us?”
No. Instead, they told little sidekicks like Jeremiah, “I’ll do the thinning around here.”
Long before the division of Israel into two kingdoms, David ruled over the children of God. For as much as he tried to stay connected to the LORD, the people invariably did as they wished. In Psalm 81 we read the David lament the voice of God saying, “My people did not hear my voice, and Israel will not obey me. So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts, to follow their own devices.”
David then lamented, “Oh, that my people would listen to me! that Israel would walk in my ways.”
That is the lesson today … walk in the ways of the LORD.
In the Book of Hebrews, Paul lists some of those “ways.”
Mutual love; hospitality to strangers; remembering those who have been imprisoned and/or tortured for their beliefs and faith; hold marriage honorable – monogamous and fruitful; worship God, not money and things; and be content with what you have.
Paul said, if we can live in those ways, we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” We will not need to shout out, “Where is the LORD?” Because we know Christ and he dwells in our hearts, as that “fountain of living water” from God. By living in the ways of Jesus, we take delight in those ways. Those ways call for sacrifices that are pleasing to God.
In the Gospel reading today, we see Jesus going to a luncheon held by the leader of the Pharisees of Jerusalem, on the Sabbath. Jesus has been invited so he can be inspected for his piety to Jewish Law.
This makes it important to understand the setting. The Pharisees of Jerusalem were the political, social, and philosophical judges of Jewish Law, as it concerned those outside the walls of the Temple. In a sense, a Pharisee was like an American Democrat, with the word coming from the Hebrew “parush,” meaning “set apart,” but indicating a “Separatist,” or one who believed the Jews were different from Gentiles and should be kept separated for purist reasons.
To some degree, it is like those who have political beliefs and a position of wealth and recognition that is aided by others of similar political beliefs. Imagine a Democratic fundraiser, where the minimum cost is $1,000 per plate, but once at the luncheon (perhaps nothing more than a hot-dog and chips on a paper plate) the checkbook is expected to come out and a little extra “offering” is going to be what determines “just how Democratic” one is.
Jesus saw how the Pharisees were not living in the ways of the LORD. They jockeyed for positions of honor, with the host leader of them at the head of the table. Their positioning was an indication of self-importance – of pride within the ranks of a group.
Jesus told them how petty this was, as there was no heavenly reward from hosting “round-robin” luncheons, where each would repay the others in kind, and all would eventually sit at the head position of a table. For all their self-importance, as judges of who are the ones most obedient to the Jewish Law, they were equally humbled by not walking in the ways of the LORD themselves.
When their ultimate times would come … when they would think they had earned a position of honor and go to take that seat … they would be told, “Sorry. That seat is taken. You have to move to a lower position.”
If they were truly wanting to live in the ways of the LORD, and help others live that way too, then they would throw feasts for those who could never repay them … the poor; the crippled; the lame; the blind … those who need help the most.
You see, Jesus told a parable that all of the Pharisees recognized, as it comes directly from a Proverb of Solomon. It reads:
“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”
It is pride that makes one start thinking one knows where to sit, due to all the things one has done to earn extra credits and special recognition. But, as they say about Zen Meditation … when you start thinking you are in Nirvana, you are not. When your pride is showing, you are blind to your need to throw some humility over it.
“For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name.”