Grace, mercy and peace to you from God, our Father, and from his Son, Jesus Christ, our living Lord and Savior.
How do we welcome and include the less fortunate? The outsider? The fourteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel begins with the announcement of Jesus choosing to dine with the Pharisees despite their habit of watching him: “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.” Luke 14:1
This is not Jesus’ first dinner with the synagogue leaders, but on this occasion Jesus uses the meal to teach a lesson on hospitality and manners. As usual, there is a deeper meaning behind his words.
Although the Pharisees intend to watch and scrutinize Jesus, it is Jesus who watches the Pharisees select their seats for the meal. Without name cards on the table, the guests wander around and select their own places at the dinner table. With bold audacity, some guests select places of honor for themselves and do not consider others who might be even more distinguished. This creates an awkward situation for both the host and the guest. Who wants to be asked to move from the best seat in the room to an inferior one?
Jesus teaches it is better to sit at the lowest seat and be asked to come forward to sit at the place of honor: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:11
During the meal, Jesus addresses the host of the dinner. Jesus’ concern is the cycle of entertaining where people continue to invite each other to dinner, trying to pay each other back for the previous meal. There is no end to such indebtedness. In fact, there can be a gradual escalation as one tries to impress or out-entertain the previous host.
Jesus introduces a whole new approach to hospitality: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return . . . But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.” Luke 14:13
Throughout Luke’s Gospel, there is an emphasis on including the outsider. This specific list of the poor, crippled, lame and blind is repeated in Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-56) as well as in Jesus’ first sermon (Luke 4:16-21).
Disciples of Jesus are encouraged to go beyond giving food and alms to strangers. Disciples of Jesus are to actually eat and interact with these same outsiders. In doing so, there is a foretaste of the feast to come at God’s inclusive banquet in heaven.
Although Jesus provides instruction about meals on earth, he is also pointing to heaven. Who among us is worthy to be at the banquet feast which has no end? Who among us is prepared for such a feast?
It is hard to imagine heaven. Jesus suggests we can get a glimpse of the magnificent meal in heaven by hosting meals on earth which include all kinds of people, particularly those who are in need and those who are considered to be outsiders. But Jesus is not suggesting we provide food at a food pantry, or a once-a-year Thanksgiving meal for the homeless. Rather, Jesus encourages the host to dine with his or her guests.
This instruction is consistent with the inclusive and interactive nature of Jesus throughout his ministry. He continually chooses to eat and interact with sinners. He invites and includes those who have been traditionally left out. He pushes back boundaries and challenges his disciples to do likewise.
Jesus is introducing a new kind of hospitality, not one built on common practices and prejudices, but a new kind of hospitality built on love, inclusiveness and the gracious sharing of resources. As children of God and disciples of Jesus — the family of God — we are to love and accept one another and appreciate our differences. May we be up to this challenge. Amen.
Submitted by Pastor Janice C. Winters, Retired Lutheran Pastor