15th Sunday after Pentecost
September 1, 2013
Luke 14, 1, 7-14
Given the stories around Jesus and dinner parties, I am not so sure that I’d be wanting to invite him to my house for a meal. He’s such a keen observer of human behavior.
It’s important for us to remember the rigid culture of shame and honor in Jesus’ day. It’s like Middle School. Is that social system open? If you invite yourself to sit the coolest people, what happens? If you not part of their group, they’ll just get up and go away, leaving you all alone at the table. It will be so embarrassing. There is just so much coolness to go around, and if you try to steal some for yourself from someone who is cooler than you, you diminish their coolness, so they are not going to let that happen. Jesus envisions a different system. Who of is ever able to break such a rigid system?
Jesus tells a little story to those who are trying to figure out their proper places at this elegant dinner. Imagine a system which is not a zero-sum game, he says. Imagine a system that is not about doing something for someone because they can do something for you. As he tells his little tale and suggests that the people who have the position and resources to put on a lovely dinner for their friends might look to those who cannot pay them back, he is not just giving good advice. He is the model of just what he is talking about.
Luke tells us this story not just because we need a lesson in how God’s people should act in a world of inequality. We hear this story from the One who gave up everything to be with us. When Jesus suggests that those who really trust in God should invite into their world those who will never be able to pay them back, he is modeling for them and for us what it looks like to give everything away to people who deserve none of it and will never be able to pay back even an iota of what’s offered. Nor is there even the slightest suggestion that it will be easy to see past the accepted norms of our human striving and judging to live in a way that we don’t measure how we look to the world around us. There is something built into us that expects tit-for-tat.
Part of our blessedness in the world includes living with rich world problems: having to maintain a car, having new shoes for school, worrying about having enough to live securely in retirement. So much of the world – even here in our own country – doesn’t have to worry about any of that because they live under an oppressive government, don’t have a job, don’t have education, are in failing health, grow up surrounded by addiction and abuse, don’t have a clue about how to join our middle-class.
We are so rich, so blessed. Does it give us peace? Does it make us generous? Are we able to give it all away? I don’t think Jesus is telling us that we should ditch our savings accounts and get rid of our cars. I think Jesus wants us to wake up to how generous God has been to us. And I am sure he wants us to remember that it is not because we are so much better than the people who have so little. God has not blessed us because we try so hard. God has not blessed us so much because we are so good. Jesus wants us to get the order straight. We live the generous life that Jesus modeled for us because we have been so blessed. God has reached into our world and our lives just because God loves sinners.
Throughout our scripture we see over and over again how God has loved and blessed our heroes of faith – flawed as they were: Noah was a drunk, Abraham tried to pass off his wife as his sister, Jacob was a liar and a cheat, Moses was a murderer, David was an adulterer and murderer. And God loved them and kept every promise to bless them.
So how do you thank someone that has done something for you that you can never pay back? You pass on the blessings. You pay back God’s forgiveness by forgiving. You pay back God’s generosity by giving. You pay back God’s astonishing love by opening your heart and not being so quick to judge.
We come to Jesus’ table here every week. We come because we are invited. Martin Luther says that when we feel the most unworthy to come to God’s table is when it is the most important to come. The words, “….for you,” tell us that each of us is seen in all our ragged worthlessness through God’s love. We are reminded that even though we feel unworthy, we have God’s promise of forgiveness and faithfulness. That is our model, to extend the hand of love and fellowship to any and all because we have been welcomed. And then it is our model to look beyond our rich world problems to see the needs of the world right under our noses. To reach out to those who are not like us, and find out what will make Jesus proud of us because we have taken his words and his love to heart, making a difference in the world.
A long time ago I heard the story of a woman who led the volunteers in a soup kitchen in prayer before they opened the doors in a terrible neighborhood on a Saturday night. “Jesus, help us to see you coming through our line tonight.” It’s that simple. If you have done it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me,” says Jesus, who did it all for us. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.