"An Invitation"

Parables, of course, are sneaky. They tell a story where you can see yourself and dare you to draw your own conclusions.

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection
[1] “Breaking Bread” by Carol Aust

Luke 14:1, 7-14

August 28, 2022

Dr. Todd R. Wright At some point in the next year or so, our daughter will be sending out invitations … to her wedding and the feast to follow. Right now, she and her fiancé are trying to figure out basic things like where and when, but eventually they will shift their focus to who will be in the wedding party, and what kind of food to serve, who to invite, and, if there is a sit-down dinner, seating charts! I’m wondering whether I should share this text with them.

 

In Luke’s gospel, a leader of the Pharisees, decided to invite Jesus to a meal. We don’t really know why. Maybe he wanted to lavish hospitality on the traveling prophet and his hungry disciples; or maybe he wanted to pick his brain about some theological point over a pint. Maybe he hoped Jesus would drop his guard over hummus and say something incriminating; or maybe he just wanted to provide some entertainment for his neighbors. Whatever his reasons, he issued an invitation and Jesus accepted. And then the fun began! (Though, as it turned out, more fun for the guest of honor than anyone else!)

 

Luke says while the host and his guests were watching Jesus, he was watching them. I don’t know what they were expecting, but the man from Galilee made himself at home, as if he was used to being stared at, as if he already knew their agenda, as if he was sure of himself... and what he had to offer. For his part, he saw them maneuvering to get the best seats, the places of honor, the spot nearest the host and his guest of honor. Beneath it all, he saw their worry about being left out – like a loser at musical chairs. And he saw their fear. And so, he began to tell a parable, set at a wedding, a paraphrase of Proverbs 25:6-7: “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.” Parables, of course, are sneaky. They tell a story where you can see yourself and dare you to draw your own conclusions. This parable invites the guests to imagine a life where they don’t have to rush for the best seats, where being shamed wasn’t a constant threat, where they could just enjoy the party. He invites them to dream about a situation where the host invites them to a better seat, not as the result of conniving or calculation, but because of the host’s copious grace. It would be a whole new world! Jesus then smiles at his host, and invites him to imagine a different way of doing things too!

Can you imagine the freedom of inviting a different crowd – so you wouldn’t have to listen to the same old stories, or try to one-up their last menu, or best their guest list? Can you imagine the joy of inviting the hungry to eat and the lame to take a seat? It would be a world of compassion and justice!

 

It is no accident that the sort of meal Jesus is describing, for the guests and his host, is what the communion meal aspires to be: a place where all are seated without rank; a place where all are welcome – the rich and poor, the strong and weak, the young and old!

The Right Reverend Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, tells the story of how a young couple became Episcopalian in the 1940s: “One Sunday, a woman invited the man she had been dating to join her at morning services. Both were African American, but the church they attended that day was all white, and right in the heart of segregated America. The young man waited in the pews while the congregation went forward to receive communion, anxious because he noticed that they were drinking from the same chalice. He had never seen black people and white people drink from the same water fountain, much less the same cup. His eyes stayed on his girlfriend. She received the bread … and then the priest lowered the chalice to her lips and said, as he had to everyone else, ‘The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.’ The man decided that any church where black and white drank from the same cup had discovered something powerful, something he wanted to be part of [too].”[2] Curry treasures this story because the couple in it were his parents! “Communion” he writes, “is the sacrament that overcomes even the deepest estrangements between human beings.”

 

I think Jesus was hoping to overcome some estrangements at that meal. We are not told how the others around the table reacted long term – whether they stopped worrying about where they sat at parties and revamped their guest lists. But we are told (in the next verse) that one of the dinner guests gushed, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” It was a mouthful of truth! We are blessed when we eat in God’s kingdom! Of course, the man was probably referring to the heavenly banquet. You know: “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by.” But Jesus wasn’t waiting for the feast at the end of time. He was trying to get them to experience that kingdom immediately. Like we did in June when we ate hotdogs with our neighbors at Village Apartments. Or the last time we served dinner at Trinity’s Table. Or the time we made sandwiches to hand out to the homeless who come to Manna Meal. Or when we topped off a celebratory meal with ice cream sundaes after church last week. At each meal, no one seemed to care where they sat, and all were welcome at the table! Each meal was entirely ordinary. And yet they were full of love! All you had to do was respond to the invitation. That sounds like a pretty good party! Maybe I will share this story with Emily and Matt. Amen

[1] “Breaking Bread” by Carol Aust [2] Here and below, from Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans, page 150-151
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