Last week while laid low with COVID, when I was feeling well enough, I had a lot of time to watch movies. I mean, who doesn’t like getting to binge some cinematic adventures while spending days in bed? I did a double feature of the “Downton Abbey” movies, my treat once my fever broke, watched some classics from my childhood like “Sandlot”, and I also watched “Death on the Nile”. Which is based on the 1937 novel by Agatha Christie by the same name. If you haven’t yet seen this movie, the best way I can describe it is that it is like the movie “Clue”, but not funny at all.
It was a visually beautiful film that I enjoyed through my COVID haze. The hottest fashions of the 1930s are on display as well as the freshest music of the day. There is a young wealthy couple on their honeymoon tour, and some friends and family are invited to join them in Egypt. My favorite character was the young heiress’ Aunt. I came to like her very early on in the film when you find out she gave everything away and refuses to do things that ‘contribute to the plight of the working man. Now, of course, she is on this ritzy vacation paid for by her very rich niece, but I was still intrigued by someone who after the stock market crash of 1929, would give away all of her wealth trying to help others. I was drawn into this character by the humility that she seemed to carry. Her willingness to give of herself in hopes that it might bless others.
And after all, humility is a virtue of our faith and Jesus reminds of that again today through this parable. I think by now in Luke you might have gotten the point that Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem and teaching everything he can about how to be followers of The Way. We are also invited to remember that for Luke, salvation is the reversal of the status quo (TBC, 332). Salvation is also social, not just spiritual. It is how we live our daily lives. We know this to be particularly true in Luke because this Gospel holds more references to the rich and the poor than any other Gospel (TBC, 332).
Jesus is trying to get us to understand something about the ways of the world and the love of wealth and the status it affords. Wealth, or perhaps even our love of status, “can be a barrier to being a disciple of Jesus” (TBC, 332). This is not to make the blanket statement that having money is evil, it is to reclaim that the love of money is. It is to say that how we live in attachment to our money is something to be examined in our lives every single day.
So, in this parable, Jesus is using the illustration of status at the banquet to express the humility we are to strive for. Jesus is watching the status quo unfold before his eyes and puts before folks another way of being. One that invites them to live into the reign of God in that very moment. We are not to try and jockey for the best seat at the table. We are not to try and seek affirmation of our status in the eyes of others or the world. Womanist theologian Emilie Townes wrote, “Jesus wants us to understand that our all-too-human drive to seek the best seat in the house or at the party will not mark genuine participation in God’s mercy or love” (FOTW, 22). So, how then do we genuinely participate in God’s mercy and love?
Townes goes on to write, “Receiving a blessing that invites us to grow into a deeper relationship with God is not something we can work our way into through acts designed to display our worth” (FOTW, 22). Friends, perhaps we live into the humility of our faith by way of blessings. Blessing others by being willing to give up our privilege for the sake of others, especially the marginalized. Those very people Jesus tells us to invite to the banquet at the end of this parable. Being a blessing by remembering that the right thing for us to do as Christians might not be the thing the world tells us to do. We are called to be people who give of themselves for the sake of others. Not to the point of breaking though. Afterall the blood has been spilt, and while we are to strive to be like Jesus we are not Jesus. But we can be a blessing to others in this world by living in the humility that we are not to do things expecting anything in return from our participation in God’s mercy and love aside from knowing that God smiles; that we are bringing about the reign of God in the midst of empire.
Throughout the movie “Death on the Nile” various characters are jockeying for position and proximity to the wealthy heiress’ money. In fact, as the movie unfolds it is clear that this is what many are up to. Though, that is not the case for her Aunt. Her Aunt has found a way to be a blessing by giving her wealth away, and trying to live a quiet life with her beloved, her “nurse companion”.
So, how are you called to be a blessing? To remember the invitation from Jesus to live our lives as a blessing, and not to live our lives seeking blessing? What attachments of the status quo, place of privilege, the preferred seat at the banquet, are you being invited to let go of? These are the questions we hold this week because the answers to these questions ensure we are bringing about the reign of God right here, right now. So may we ask them of ourselves and one another, may we stay open to the Holy Spirit drawing the answers out from us, and may we live our lives as a blessing to others. May it be so.
Resources: Death on the Nile (film), Feasting on the Word, Theological Bible Commentary