Sometimes, a scripture will just hit me the wrong way. That’s what this week’s scripture reading did: When you are invited to a wedding banquet, don’t sit in the place of honor, in case someone more important than you should come along and say, “Hey, out of my seat!” Instead, sit in the least honorable place so the host will say, “Oh, no! You belong in the VIP section, and everyone will look at you with admiration as you move up to the expensive seats.
Hm. Sounds like a bit of vested self-interest; like we want to be noticed in our humility for how wonderful we are. That rubs my fur the wrong way. I mean, it makes sense; we don’t want to be humiliated by having the host say, “No, you’re not that important” in front of everyone. But to take the lowest seat so you can vault your humility? Hm. Not feeling it.
Jesus was invited by these Pharisees to dinner. These days it’s hard for us to imagine crossing the aisle like Jesus does; Jesus always goes to dinner with those who disagree with Him. Reminds me of Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, by day opposing every judgement the other makes; by night going to the opera and having a grand time. Best friends, best adversaries. We don’t do that anymore. Maybe we should.
But anyway, Jesus was invited to dinner by these opponents of His, and they were watching Him closely, as they always did. Watching to see how he might say or do something wrong, like healing on the Sabbath or letting a woman wash Hid feet with her hair.
And while they were watching Him, Jesus was watching them: how everyone was scrambling for places of honor around the table- who gets to sit next to the host, that sort of thing. And He tells them this piece of common sense, with this wicked, wry sense of humor. After all, He’s one of the honored guests. And what He tells them is wise- aim for public humility and you won’t be embarrassed. Makes sense, especially when told with a twinkle in His eye.
But then He goes on, and the twinkle leaves His eyes. He grows serious, because what He’s about to say is important. Jesus says, when we give a dinner, don’t invite the important people whom we can then ask favors of. Networking, contacts, payback, working our way up the ladder.
No, if we are children of God, invite the people who won’t be able to gain us any advantage. The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. The people whom no one else invites. Why? Because that’s what God wants. God wants this great big table, with everyone at it.
I’d add to Jesus’ list. I’d say go ahead and invite the privileged people too: not to curry favor, or let them see what a godly person we are, but so that we’re all sitting together and being family. There’s nothing that separates, that alienates us more than disease and poverty. Unemployed people, sick people, homeless people- over on this side. And on the other side, never to meet, are the healthy, the homeowners, the educated, the privileged.
No, let’s break down those barriers, so we’re all on the same side. Everyone around the same table.That’s what the Lord’s Supper is all about. It doesn’t matter who you are, or why you’re here. It doesn’t matter if you drove or thumbed a ride, or if you’re here on crutches or racing up the aisle, if you’re pierced and tatted, or unadorned. We are one people, and we all belong here: no matter what, no matter why, no matter who.
And if we’re real Christians, we make sure, as Jesus commands us, to go outside of our comfort zones and invite folks that push our envelopes into our community. (Actually, what Jesus says in the Parable of the Great Banquet the verse after what we’re studying today is “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. And the servant said, “Lord, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room at the table.” And so the master of the house said, “Go out and get everyone you see, for I want my house to be filled.” Luke 14:21b-23)
Yup. That sounds like our God. I want My house to be filled with every person- no matter what, no matter why, no matter who.
And so we come to the table today, knowing that we are supposed to be here. But we also come to the table, looking around, and asking, “Who did we forget? Who should we have brought? Who else does God want us to bring, if not this time, then next”
And when, like the faithful servant, we finally get everyone God wants here around this table, God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of My Realm.” And we will know that we are finally at home.
In the name of the One who loves every one of us, and will never let any of us go: even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resources: Prof. Mitzi Smith, workingpreacher.org for Sept. 1, 2019
Scripture for Sept. 1, 2019 Luke 14:1, 7-14
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 Jesus 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.”
Jesus also said to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends 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.”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.