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(Read this series from the beginning at Part 1 and Part 2.)
Reading the passage this way causes the language of humility and exaltation to take on a more Lucan flavor.
From the very first time Luke contrasts humility and exaltation, the context is political and systemic, not personal, moral, or individualistic. Consider Luke 1:
“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)
And Luke 14:
“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
As we shared in The Bodies We Inhabit, the rhetoric in Luke 14 of contrasting the humble with those who exalt themselves had a long political/economic history in the Jewish scriptures. In this tradition, the contrast is much more than privatized morality It’s consistently used to critique harmful systems.
“Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, ‘Come up here,’ than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.” (Proverbs 25:6-7)
“If they make you master of the feast, do not exalt yourself; be among them as one of their number. Take care of them first and then sit down; when you have fulfilled all your duties, take your place, so that you may be merry along with them and receive a wreath for your excellent leadership.” (Sirach 32:1-2)
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but wisdom is with the humble.” (Proverbs 11:2)
“For you [YHWH] deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.” (Psalms 18:27)
So what does this all mean for us today?
I cannot help but think of the Religious Right and Evangelical groups directly responsible for much of the harm people are experiencing in our American society now. There is a longer history here to their relationship with the GOP than this week’s commentary allows us to explore. For now, though, we can say that the Republican Party has for decades courted certain religious communities in the U.S. in its bid to stay in power. To get the vote of these religious members and groups, the GOP has catered to the political/religious demands of their leaders. Yet, the Religious Right and these Evangelical groups have also demonstrated that they couldn’t care less about politicians’ moral character as long as these politicians will be tools or conduits to achieve their political goals. We’re now witnessing legislation across the country that represents bigotry toward vulnerable communities in the guise of religiosity. Christian Nationalism has taken root in this power-seeking soil, and is growing into the ugly manifestations we witness today.
Those of old who viewed themselves as religiously or morally superior to others while actively supporting systems of harm—how are we seeing this dynamic repeated in our communities today?
It’s honestly difficult to channel my anger in life-giving ways when I see religiously observant people whose pastors and other influencers have convinced them that certain political actions are their Christian duty, and who are nevertheless engaging in political activities that only produce systems of concrete harm for so many. Like the man in our story this week, they feel thankful that they aren’t “sinners” like others while simultaneously being responsible for so much societal harm being done to those our society has made vulnerable.
It’s not enough to have our faith community’s stamp of approval on our political engagement. We also have to look at the fruit of our political actions. Are we building systems that give life to those who marginalized and vulnerable or are we engaging in political activity that has our religious community’s approval but is actually deeply destructive?
There is a lot to consider here. What is the fruit of your political actions? It’s not about which political party or parties you support. Considering the fruit of our actions also means mitigating harm as we engage the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone. Thinking of the fruit means following the Jesus of our sacred stories. Thinking only of the political ends we’ll achieve at any cost is just being a political tool for empowering a few while harming many more.