Spicy Banquet, Pastor Fred
Jesus is an itinerant wandering preacher! A prophet with nowhere to lay his head! And always at odds with his nation’s leaders! So what is Jesus doing, dining at the house of Israel’s upper-class elite leadership?! But this isn’t the first, nor the last time he sits down to dine with them. It’s complicated!
The Pharisees were actually a diversified sect in Jesus’ day, including many working class folks, as well as a few well-off leaders, like the one who threw the invitation-only Banquet in our Gospel Reading. But Jesus was a leader with a reputation too. He may not have had the same wardrobe of fine linens, but the Leaders of the Pharisees were interested, and in dialog with, what learned people like Jesus had to say. And the skirmishes that Jesus had with them in the Gospel of Luke, shows how they thought about many of the same things. But it just wasn’t true that all Pharisees, espoused the principles, Jesus was criticizing. Nicodemus comes to mind!
And Jesus, no doubt, had an interest in debating with them too, most obviously, so he could invite them into the kingdom and realm of God, as he envisioned it, knowing that the Spirit of God rested on him, and these debates were not just prosaic exercises, but had consequences.
This is now the 3rd time Jesus was invited to a banquet along the way, on this, his momentous and final road to Jerusalem, and he must have caused quite a stir!
How about you, have you ever been invited to a banquet of upper-class socialites?
The closest I’ve come, has been, ever since my dad left some money in his Will to the Lutheran Seminary in Hyde Park, and Kim and I have been invited to the donor’s banquet. It usually takes place at the exclusive, ornate Quadrangle Club, of the Univ. of Chicago, just a few blocks away, when the Board of Directors are in town, some of whom are million dollar givers. But most are more like us, or, somewhere in between.
First there’s the cocktail hour, with fancy hor’s devours coming by on trays every few minutes, delivered by a well-dressed wait staff. The guests, of course, are dressed in their finest dresses and suits, and theoretically, you can rub shoulders with the elite. But Kim and I mainly talk with the professors we know, who, coincidentally, or maybe not, happen to inhabit the same financial world we do!
Then comes the dinner! There are a few tables up front reserved for the honorees, some Board members, and speakers, like the President of the seminary. But no one, as far as I know, has ever asked them ‘to move down’ and take ‘a lower place!’
Today, we don’t live in an ‘honor/shame culture’ like Jesus and the disciples did. To be asked to be lowered from the best, to the worst seat, was pretty much the end of your life and status in ancient Israel – you would be shamed and cast out of your upper social standing, which had major consequences.
That’s not exactly how it works for us. There are other rules we have. Being disloyal to your family, or your boss, for example, can bring shades of retribution. The corporate world can be especially nasty. The bigger and richer the company, the deeper the control from the top down, that’s possible. Government, by our democratic rules, works different, or is supposed to, at least. Hierarchy has mostly been regulated out. The standard for elected leaders is supposed to be measured against how they serve us, their loyalty is to the voters and to the people. Which is why, being a successful business man in the corporate world, does not always mean you’ll be a good executive leader in elected office!
What’s more notable for us in our gospel, I think, is Jesus’ instructions to the leader, the top dog, who threw the banquet. It came, just after his admonition, ‘For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
And ‘Jesus said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers 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.”’ Luke insisted that the lowly – like Mary the mother of Jesus, or any number of those he heals – would be lifted up, and the rich sent away empty, a strong and recurrent theme in Luke’s gospel.
In religious circles, we try to put this into practice, in any number, and variety of ways. We give to Care for Real, for example, while some churches host meals that the poor can freely attend. We give to Lutheran World Relief and UNICEF, to those victimized by hurricane, earthquake, and flood. We canvass, and work for better housing for people with low incomes, and assemble hygiene kits for people experiencing homelessness. We greet refugees at the airport, or immigrants fleeing violence and poverty, and we befriend them and provide them housing, and there are probably hundreds of other ways.
Perhaps it’s the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews that has been our teacher, for 2 millennia now, “Let mutual love continue,” they said. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it (Sarah and Abraham). Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. ….. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
So the kind of church, country, and world we want to live in, is up to us! We could invite just our friends to our banquets. We could invite neighbors like us, hoping they might invite us in return – as Jesus said. Or, we can invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, immigrants and refugees, those who cannot repay us. For then we are honored in the kingdom of God!
What kind of a country and world will we have, if we reject those immigrants at our doorstep fleeing violence, who are poor and in need of health care? Who will we be, if we turn them away? What kind of country and world are we making by insisting on fencing them out? Who are we fooling, when people of color are targeted, and then out of ‘the other side of our mouth,’ the rich northern-most European countries are praised? What kind of people will we be, if, as the Trump White House wants to do, we implement caging families without due process, for as long as we want?
And then, who will they come for next?
The prophet Jeremiah had words for such as these:
7I brought you into a plentiful land (O house of Jacob)
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination…
12Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the LORD,
We too, have lived off the fruits of this rich land, sometimes living in peace and harmony with its inhabitants, sometimes using people as cheap and free labor. Sometimes we’ve done well, welcoming the ‘tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the homeless and tempest-tost,’ but sometimes we’ve sent boat loads of refuge seekers, back to their executioners.
Who will we be? Are we able to have an honest conversation together, rich and poor, proud and prophet?
Isn’t this why Jesus accepts the invitation to the banquet of the rich leader? So he can sit down with them, even though he knows there is yet a truth he must tell, a counter invitation he must offer to the outcast, they may not want to hear? It’s complicated – but Jesus leads the way through all difficulties.
When Jesus arrived at the registration table at the house of the elite leader, on the road to his cross and resurrection, and put on his name-tag, to eat with them on the Sabbath, Luke says ‘they were watching him closely.’ And they knew, their table conversation would be spicy!
The banqueting table of the Lord includes, not just the elite conversation partners of society, who can repay you, but everyone is invited to the Feast of Thanksgiving around God’s Table!
Go and do likewise! Invite the poor, ‘the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the homeless and tempest-tost,’ and then, the kingdom and realm of God, has already begun to dawn amongst us.
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”