As many of us know, Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written while imprisoned. Rather than feeling helpless as most of us in this situation would, I sense that Paul is empowered by his relationship with Jesus Christ. In fact, in his letters Paul speaks, “with all boldness.” And although he mentions his longing to depart this life and be with Christ, he sees remaining on earth as not only a necessity for the benefit of the Philippians, but as a means by which he may continue to serve others.
In terms of our own lives, most of us are required to cope with difficult circumstances from time to time. We may be imprisoned by depression, despair, anxiety, hate, or other problems that act as shackles in our lives. Although we may want to give up, we should, instead, emulate Paul and accept God’s love and the empowerment that accompanies it to work through hardships. God grants us many gifts and these include the ability to step back, tap into our faith, and confidently use prayer, problem solving, forgiveness, and other God-given skills to free ourselves from the shackles of despair and hopelessness. By doing this, we grow greatly through and with Jesus Christ and rejoice as Paul knowing that none of this is possible without God’s love. In recognizing this, we not only become empowered to live God’s message, but to spread the word through our new-found empathy and service to those most in need.
Luke’s gospel provides an account of Jesus visiting the house of a leading Pharisee. Whereas the Pharisees were closely watching Jesus to see how he observed Jewish law, it was actually Jesus who noted and then commented on how the guests were positioning themselves in places of honor at the table. Although this parable provides solid, practical, almost Martha Stewart-like advice about proper etiquette at functions such as dinner parties (i.e., never proceed to sit in a place of honor for fear of embarrassment when the host asks you to take a lesser seat), it much more importantly prescribes a manner by which to live our lives.
Many of us go through life with a sense of entitlement. We expect the best seat on an airliner, protest when we are not served better at a restaurant, or cry foul when not given the recognition we deserve at home or work. Although everyone likes to be treated well, Jesus’ parable reminds us of the dangers of thinking too highly of ourselves. When it is “all about me” we often forget about the “them.” And as in both Luke 14:1 and in our own lives, the “them” is often the less fortunate and marginalized. So, Jesus reminds us of the importance of humbling ourselves to others. Care less about our stature and more about others’ well being, especially those who are poor, discriminated against, imprisoned, or experience mental health problems. Humbling ourselves and serving others not only helps those being served, but psychological research demonstrates its powerfully positive impact on the server as well. And, more importantly, by humbling ourselves in front of God, He will exalt us!