Last week we talked about the first Baptist preacher in Texas, so this week I thought we’d go back a couple hundred years further and talk about one of the first missionaries, of any type, to venture to Texas.
Father Antonio Margil de Jesús, known as the Patron Saint of Texas, was perhaps the most famous of the early Spanish missionaries to our state.
Born in 1657, he was ordained a priest in 1683. He served as a missionary in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala before walking – barefoot – to establish a mission of the Nacogdoches tribe in East Texas in 1716.
The story goes that east Texas suffered a severe drought the next year, and all of the springs in the area dried up.
In the summer of 1718, according to tradition, Father Margil was led by a vision to a point near this site where the bed of La Nana Creek made a sharp bend. There he struck the overhanging rock shelf with his staff, and a stream of water gushed forth. Some accounts say that he made two openings in the rock, which became known as The Eyes of Father Margil.
During the “Chicken War” of 1719, between the Spanish and French, all of the missions in East Texas were abandoned, and the entire Spanish population withdrew to San Antonio.
Once in San Antonio, Father Margil founded the most successful of all Texas missions, Mission San José.
We’ll get back to Father Margil in a little bit.
Today we find Jesus sitting at a meal with a large group of people, and he starts teaching about where you should sit, and whom you should invite.
Jesus wasn’t giving a Miss Manners lesson for table etiquette. He was explaining, once again, how different the rules are in the Kingdom of God.
To understand just how radical this was, we need to remember the social system in place at the time.
Jewish Palestine, where Jesus lived, was a part of the Roman Empire and governed by the Roman class structure. Birth, wealth, position and citizenship determined the social classes.
And the foundation of the Roman class structure was patronage, or owing favors. Basically, you help me and I’ll help you.
There was this tricky balance between doing favors for others, and making sure others owed you favors.
That sounds exhausting…
But Jesus has a different idea for the way things ought to work.
As Jesus watched the guests at this Pharisee’s house jockeying for position at the table, he saw a double teaching opportunity, and he grabbed it.
First, he addressed the guests.
He paraphrases from Proverbs: “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.”
Then Jesus turns to the host…
“You’re inviting the wrong people,” Jesus told him. “By including only friends, family, and those who can advance your status, you are no better than these guests who are fighting over the best seat in the house.”
Jesus is teaching that power and status and self-promotion don’t fit in God’s kingdom.
The practice that Jesus expects is humility.
Father Margil was a man of deep humility. He started two colleges, founded hundreds of missions, and served the indigenous throughout Texas. Remember, he walked everywhere barefoot. More than once he was tortured, beaten, or left for dead.
His name, which deserves to be known by everyone in Texas, is the Venerable Antonio Margil of Jesus. But he signed all of his letters as El Nada Mismo – Nothingness Itself.
That’s our marker today. Our sign of what the Christian life looks like.
Within a few years of the life of Jesus, humility became a centerpiece of our faith. The early church sang a hymn about Jesus that the Apostle Paul recorded in his letter to the Philippians:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
In our gospel today Jesus is asking us to see the world through eyes of humility that see everyone with the eyes of God.
It’s time to see the world the way God sees it. With everyone created in the image of God.
We can no longer just see the people who can do something for us, and instead look for the people the world overlooks.
And we need to see that we all are in equal need of grace and mercy in the eyes of God.
And we’re all equally loved in the eyes of God.
And if we are in equal need of grace, and we’re all equally loved, we can no longer participate in a system that places more value on some people and less value on others?
As we accept Christ’s invitation to join him at Table in the Kingdom of God we must admit that we are only there because of God’s grace and mercy and love.
Jesus came to level the playing field between the haves and the have nots, between the wealthy and the poor, between the healthy and the sick.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
For God so loved the world.
God sees your heart, and God loves you anyway.
And we need to see the world in the same way.