Luke 14:1, 7-14
The Holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
When was the last time you threw a party and invited anybody and everybody who wanted to come? Most of the time (in my Midwestern experience) party planning involves a guest list, or at the very least, a sign-up sheet if there’s a covered dish or potluck involved. Much thought is given and effort put into seating arrangements, menus, entertainment, and other important details.
We want our friends and family to have a good time; we want our carefully planned event to be successful.
There was a man in a church that I served that had a good life and did well for himself. Every year at Thanksgiving he would provide a meal for anyone who wanted to come to join him and his family in a Thanksgiving meal. What many thought was a way for him to help people who were less fortunate, it really boiled down to the fact that he personally felt no one should be eating alone on Thanksgiving. So he invited the whole community…single/married, poor/rich, hungry or not, it was a way for people to come together…and it was amazing!
It was also an event that required a lot of planning, investment of time, energy, and money, and an element of risk. When you invite everyone you can’t exactly guarantee the results. This person had a vision to serve his neighbors, and he was willing to take some risks to do so. The meal didn’t result in a huge influx of new members, and the coffers of the congregation were not fuller because of this event. But what it had done is created a real pick-me-up in the community. It signals welcome and a willingness to do something without expectation of specific returns on the investment. I don’t even know if our church was even mentioned in any conversation that was had that day, because it wasn’t church sponsored event. Although it may have been endorsed by members helping to set up, serve, and tear down, the point was that people of faith were inspired to bring others into a community to be with one another on a holiday. Being there was a holy moment that I was graciously invited to.
Speaking of events and parties our text has something to say about parties.
In our text in Luke Jesus talks about table manners, how to be a guest and how to be a host. The setting was already tension-filled on the journey to Jerusalem, but uniquely here the Pharisees are the “good guys” warning Jesus of Herod’s plot against him. Some Pharisee, maybe Nicodemus, has heard the preaching and wants both words and healing to continue. Then another Pharisee, a leader, invites Jesus to dinner. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin and therefore a leader. These were both known as followers of Jesus as well as members of the most holy of Jewish groups, but surely there were others who did not agree with the antagonists who often questioned Jesus.
Jesus is enjoying this meal and notices that people are awkward in finding their seats, and it leads him into a parable about table manners. Meals from the time of Sarah and Abraham’s hospitality to three strangers who turned out to be God, through the history of settled and nomadic people basing honor on their willingness to invite and then protect anyone who needed food, to these tense days of Roman occupation, remained a central proof of faith. It was central to staying alive by filling both hunger for food and hunger for community.
Awkward guests do not just come from long ago times. Eating together is still one of the most complicated of human relationships.
- Tension can be high for a middle schooler finding a table to join in a school cafeteria or for a blended family sorting themselves out at a wedding to support the couple being married.
- Coffee can be kindly or bluntly served to a lonely person in a roadhouse, and a friendly smile added to the first jello or broth after surgery makes a long-lasting memory.
For everyone, past Birthdays enjoyed, past invitations unreceived or received, past Christmas joys at a shelter for unhoused people, or a single thoughtless family lack of courtesy can flavor new occasions and behaviors.
In this passage, Jesus, known by his friends and enemies as both up-for-anything guest and holy host, gives simple guidance to fill these roles. Both of the roles are hard, and Jesus does not diminish the challenge. A host is to invite the least likely of guests and the guest is simply to accept every invitation and not presume to define it, or their place within it.
This etiquette of acceptance and inclusion that Jesus teaches in this parable is widely present in the gospel through the stories of his presence at such different tables as Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, Simon-the disapprover, Zacchaeus the repentant cheat, Martha, and the two Emmaus travelers who threw together an impromptu supper. Later, in the Acts of the Apostles, perhaps the strangest tale is Peter’s dream to include everyone and call no one unclean. Each of these stories are about ordinary eating. Jesus words to the anonymous Pharisee’s party does not foreshadow Communion so much as make inclusive Communion possible because everyone learns to both sit and receive and offer the recipe of love. We, too, receive the invitation, because we have learned to be guests and hosts nimble enough to change those positions with grace because of God’s Grace.
Maybe that’s part of what Jesus is getting at this week. When we open our doors and throw a party, when we reach out in ministry and mission, we have to be willing to take some risks. Results aren’t the point of our hospitality. Success by the world’s standards isn’t the proper measure. This whole discipleship thing isn’t about honor, glory, reward, or prestige. And it’s not a competition.
Serving God and neighbor is more like a community potluck than a gourmet meal in the finest restaurant.
- It’s less about perfection….and more about improvisation.
- It’s less about form….and more about function.
- It’s less about looks….and much, much more about love.
- It’s has something to do with rubbing elbows with strangers and family alike; after all, if we’re being honest, both can present challenges.
Instead of a guest list carefully crafted to reflect our wishes, Jesus crafts a “grace list” that is an open invitation to the party. The point is this: At Jesus’ banquet table there is room for everyone.
- Great Aunt Mabel’s lime Jello salad can exist peacefully with vegan Valerie’s fresh green bean vinaigrette.
- Homemade mac and cheese can sit side-by-side with a bag of store-bought potato chips.
- Hamburgers and tamales and sno-cones co-exist and complement one another in delightful ways.
When we all show up to the invitation and everyone brings his or her best offering, the banquet table shines with the goodness of God.
Showing up, sitting down, and sharing our abundant blessings is the kind of banquet Jesus is talking about. Every place is a place of honor in God’s economy. Humbling ourself in our 21st century culture might mean trying ministry in new ways or allowing new folks to bring their best “dishes” to the congregational table. Take some risks, explore new tastes and talents, and most of all celebrate that our God has a heart for every last rag-tag, bumped, bruised, dented, broken, and tired one of us. We’re all included on the “grace list,” and that, my dear friends, is REALLY good news!
The key from today for me comes in the last two lines of the gospel reading, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed for they cannot repay you.” Wait for it, wait for it…”for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
With those words, Jesus transforms this from a discussion about meal etiquette and well-to-do giving back to the community—into a consideration of what it means to live as a citizen of the eternal kingdom of God, the fellowship of the redeemed, the community of the baptized, the family of the faithful, the realm of the future resurrected. Within that reality, the rules and rewards are totally different from what we so-often and so-mistakenly refer to as “the real world.”
For Jesus and his followers, to be baptized is to die to the world of position and power and “you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours” – so that we may be reborn, raised up, resurrected to a new life where none of that matters and in which we are invited to live as grateful and generous recipients of God’s unearned love and grace—love and grace which we receive free of charge and obligation, and give to others in the same way.
The church is called upon to share this message without the use of either hand-waving and yelling or moral radar guns and laws, We are called to live God’s love in our actions and speak God’s love with our lips so that others may gradually be able to die to self and live to God more and more each day.