J ESUS LIKED TO EAT. In Luke’s Gospel, it seems Jesus is always at the table. We find him sharing a meal with Pharisees and scribes, tax collectors and sinners, his disciples. A number of Jesus’ parables are told during these meals.
Jesus is at dinner in the house of an important Pharisee. Pharisees were teachers of the Law of Moses and were looked on with respect and admiration. That status may have led them to claim honors and privileges. They wanted the best seats and everyone wanted to sit next to them. Sort of a pecking order of importance and worth.
At this meal, Jesus comments. Have you ever noticed how the guests at a wedding feast pick the places of honor and shove and jostle in order not to be put in the “last place”? My mom was suspicious of preachers who were always first in line at church potluck. Jesus calls into question this type of behavior.
Jesus’ “parable” is a direct rebuke to the guests: “When you’re invited to a wedding banquet, do not take the place of honor.”
The reason is understandable: If you do, you might be called out for it, told to move to a less-important seat and embarrassed in front of everyone.
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OF COURSE, JESUS ISN’T TALKING about dinner. He uses what he sees at this Sunday lunch to talk about the Kingdom of God — which he often compares to a wedding feast or banquet.
Jesus condemns religious practices that lead to self-justification and spiritual arrogance. He invites the folks that day — and us — to place ourselves before God in an attitude of humility; to present ourselves before God with empty hands. Then God may fill them.
It’s a new logic: Everything is gift; everything is grace. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. There will no longer be a need to push and shove. Everyone will be invited to participate and given a “place of honor.” It’s a complete change in the way we see and live now.
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GOD IS TRULY REVEALED TO US through the way Jesus lived. God doesn’t pick the place of honor but becomes a servant. God invites us to a great banquet but also gets up and washes our feet. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
But Jesus doesn’t just speak to the dinner guests. Jesus also offers words — crazy words — to the host: Don’t invite anyone to dinner who can reciprocate the invitation.
When we invite people out to dinner whether family, friends, or business associates — we put them in our debt. Even today etiquette requires they return this favor to you. It’s an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” kind of world. Or as we’ve heard in presidential news this week, “quid pro quo.” Which is why Jesus’ “advice” probably sounds so crazy.
Why on earth waste an opportunity for some kind of advancement by inviting folks who have nothing to give you? Why welcome people into your home who have nothing to offer? It’s crazy.
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DO YOU REMEMBER THE PECKING ORDER in school? The importance of sitting with the right folks at lunch? How much it meant to have someone invite you to a party? Remember the clear social lines of the various groups from band, sports teams, techies, or whatever?
Our schools operate on a status system. At the beginning of the school year, children face questions about their status as groups are assigned, teams formed and friendships circle up. Even first-graders quickly learn this status system. Those who are picked first and last for sports teams. Those who can easily find a good place to sit in the lunchroom or on the bus.
It is easy for children to let their position in any of these pecking orders define their sense of self-worth, or lack of worth.
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JESUS INSISTS THAT IN GOD’S EYES, everyone is worthy of coming to the party or sitting at the lunch counter. That is both good news and a challenge to all of us. It’s hard to believe that you’re as good as others but not better than others.
Schoolchildren, remember you are always welcome at God’s table, no matter what. And other kids are also. Remember that at work. And in volunteering and even at church.
Pecking order happens just about everywhere. But in the Kingdom of God, all are invited and welcome
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GOD HAS GIVEN ME all good things for no good reason and invites me to do the same for others. This is the way God wants us to treat each other. After all, it’s the way God treats us — giving us what we need, caring for us, forgiving us, redeeming us — yet we have nothing meaningful to offer God in return. When you think about it, the only thing we can do in return, is to share what we’ve been given with others.
This is the kingdom life, and it stands in stark contrast to the honor-and-shame world we live in.
Jesus challenges me to take my faith seriously enough to act and live differently. Why? Because faith only matters to us to the degree that it helps us make the decisions and address the situations that we face daily.
● What would it be like to invite a kid who’s always alone to sit with you at lunch?
● What would it be like to reach out to someone who is very different from you?
● What would it be like to stop someone from bullying someone else?
● What would it be like to post on Facebook something kind about someone who rarely gets noticed?
● What would it be like to invite someone who’s often ignored to a party?
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JESUS SAYS STOP THE PUSHING, shoving, climbing over one another to get the best seat. You are invited to the banquet. We are all invited to the banquet.
The question now is not, “Where shall I sit?” but “How can I best serve?”
— Keith Cardwell