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The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
by R.D. Crouse

The University Service

King’s College Chapel

17 September, 1978

“Then shalt thou have glory in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.” 

(Luke 14.10)

Jesus was invited to the Sabbath-day dinner at the house of one of the chief Pharisees; and in the Gospel lesson for today, we have an account of that visit.  It seems to have been a gathering of important and pious people – lots of lawyers and Pharisees about – interested in meeting this remarkable preacher and wonder-worker, and finding out how sound he was on such a basic question as that of the Sabbath observance.  After healing the sick man, and after some rather difficult consequent discussion on observing the Sabbath, to which no one else seems to have had much to contribute, Jesus changed the subject.


He noticed how these important people had been concerned about getting the best seats – no doubt they all deserved places above the salt, and apparently the host had neglected the detail of the place-cards.  No doubt there were thorny questions of protocol.   One can imagine that Jesus was quite amused by this situation; and he commented on it with a parable, to the effect that these glory-seekers might better achieve their ends by appropriating the lowers seats.  No doubt they would then be asked to move higher, and that would certainly be much more satisfactory than starting out in the chief seat, and then being asked to move down.  “Whoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”


Well – it seems to be a lesson on manners at dinner-parties, does it?  But perhaps that’s not all it is.  It’s a parable, and the parable is a very interesting and tricky teaching device.  It has a simple and obvious and superficial point.  But that superficial point is never more than a fraction of the meaning of the story, and sometimes not even that.  For instance, the Parable of the Unjust Steward is not at all a recommendation that one should cheat on one’s employer’s accounts.  Nor, I think, is today’s parable really advising us to play Uriah Heap at dinner-parties.


It is, nevertheless, in a somewhat oblique and general way, a lesson in the virtue of humility, and the reward of glory; and it is our task to understand that general point in relation to the glory which we seek.


“In don’t know what you mean by ‘Glory’!”, said Alice to Humpty Dumpty; and Humpty Dumpty, revealing certain academic propensities, replied that “glory” means “a nice knock-down argument”.  He claimed his right to use words as he saw fit; but we may still complain with Alice, that that is not what “glory” means.  You will surely encounter lots of nice knock-down arguments in the University, but I think you will discover that not many of them are very directly conducive to glory.


In the Biblical and theological tradition, glory has to do not so much with argument as with knowledge. Man’s glory consists in the perfection of knowledge – the vision of God.  As St. Paul puts it (II Cor. 3.18);  “We all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  That is the hope of our calling:  the knowledge, the vision, of God.  That knowledge is our glory.


Universities exist for the cultivation of knowledge, and their end is that glory of which St. Paul speaks.  Not that they are, or should be, theological institutions, in the narrow sense of that term; but any and every rational investigation, any and every inquiry into the cause or reasons of things, is ultimately an inquiry and investigation into the First Principle, or Cause, or Reason of these things.  Unless it is mere idle curiosity it is a stage in the mind’s journey to God.  Even idle curiosity may sometimes be a kind of beginning.  And when the object of all those investigations is made explicit, that is theology – the science, or knowledge of God.  Thus theology’s traditional place in the University had to do with giving aim and cohesion to all the other fragmentary investigations.


The quest for knowledge is the quest for glory; and, according to our parable, humility has something to do with the attainment of that end.  And humility, I suppose, is not one of the most evident virtues in the academic community.  We are urged to display our laurels, and claim the better seats, and have more glory in the presence of our fellow-diners.  Much trivial glorying certainly goes on here.


But there is, nevertheless, a profounder form of humility which is always ready to start at the beginning, always ready to begin again with the rudiments, always ready to take the lowest seat; the humility which recognizes always our incompleteness in our quest, which sees that the glory is yet beyond us, which waits upon the Spirit to head us higher. 


Dante, in the Paradiso (XIII), puts wonderful words on this subject in the mouth of St. Thomas Aquinas:


No one should ever be too self-assured

In judgement, like the farmer reckoning

His gains before the corn-crop is matured,


For I have seen the briar a prickly thing

And tough the winter through, and on its tip

Bearing the very rose at close of spring.


And once I saw, her whole long ocean-trip

Safe done, a vessel wrecked upon the bar,

And down she went, that swift and stately ship.


Thus he warns us against that rash judgement which would rush to claim the chief seats; against that self-conceit which shackles the intellect in its own empty fantasies of glory.  “Go and sit down in the lowest seat” says our parable.  Humility of mind is the prerequisite of clear vision; abasement is the prerequisite of glory.


We begin our University year with this service of Holy Eucharist, which is a celebration of glory – the glory of the heavenly dinner-table; the glory of new life and resurrection in perfect knowledge and love.  But the glory of the Risen Lord is precisely the glory of humility.  In the divine equality, his is the chief seat; but (as St. Paul says) “thinking that equality is not a thing to be grasped for, he emptied himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; wherefore God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.”  “Friend, go up higher.”  We celebrate at once the humility of the cross, and the glory of the resurrection, and we see that these belong together.  Christian wisdom bids us imitate what we celebrate.  “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”  And in the Collect for today, we pray for God’s grace to enable us in this good work, “that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, ‘Friend, go up higher.’  Then shalt thou have glory in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”