Luke 14:1, 5-23
Meals matter in the Gospel of Luke.
We’re listening to Jesus eating with wealthy people. He ate with them often enough to know how to do it acceptably. He knew how to recline at the table, when to wash, when to reach into the food. He knew where the places of honor were around the table were, how rank and honor were tested, gained, and lost. He knew who was and wasn’t invited, and why. Which is to say he understood how the meal was always more than eating; it was a ritual in which the town, the village, sorted itself out.
Here is Jesus at a meal. Jesus has been invited by someone of stature, part of the local elite, and this man has also invited others of privilege to come. Its a meal, but its always more than a meal. Those who come, have affirmed his honorable place in the community, in exchange for the honor of being invited as his guests, accepting his gift, and entering indebtedness to his abundance. Its a performance that showed everyone where they belonged, and in that way, actually did sustain the order of things. This was a culture in which honor matters, where honor and your household fortunes are connected, and where honor is fragile and always being challenged and negotiated. Who you ate with, where you’re placed to sit a meal, mattered. Except for his notoriety as a teacher, its a place Jesus would have no access to, because a peasant artisan would have nothing to offer.
So, at the house of a leader of the Pharisees, Jesus watches them, noticing how they angle for the honorable seats. And Jesus offers some advice about how to choose seats—sit in a place lower than you’re entitled to, so that the host ends up dramatizing that no, you actually belong higher up. They would almost certainly have heard this as just a helpful way to game the seating arrangement. “Thanks, Jesus.”
Then he looks at his host and makes a suggestion that would have sounded impossible: When you throw a dinner, don’t invite the neighbors who can repay you, who have something desirable to exchange. Open your banquet to the poor. Give a banquet for those who have no place, who have nowhere to invite you in return, whose table you would be ashamed of. Make that your house a place for that kind of feast, and you will be repaid in the Resurrection.
And then Jesus tells the guests at this dinner a parable. A man decided to hold a great dinner and he sent out invitations to the large property owners. But when feast was ready and the couches arranged, his servant went to collect the guests, and they refused to come. So he sent his servant out again, further and further through the town, and out of town, gathering in the poor, the destitute who struggled with bodies that kept them from working. And just like that, the inverted order of the beatitudes was alive and reclining around his table, celebrating this banquet. But what’s harder for us to hear now, is how this vision would have seemed like a story about a kind of social death. The story presses on the very fear that would have made those who heard Jesus call them to invite the poor, incredulous.
Remember that a meal is always more than a meal—its the place where honor is negotiated, where your place in the world is negotiated. In the parable, the invited guests who made excuses, tested the direction of the wind and decided there was more to be lost than gained by keeping man’s company. They have shamed him. All of them—there was nobody. This is what everybody was imagining, when Jesus starts talking about dinner with the blind and lame. If you throw a dinners for people without anything to give; its only the poor who will ever come. And then who will you be? And how can that be repaid?
This is not Jesus giving charity as a discipline; he’s talking about the end of relationships within the human family, being defined by competition, and our way of assigning people places. In the Kingdom, there is another banquet: the table where the Lord is host.
At a table where some people would never be invited, Jesus is describing his own table: the feast of the Kingdom where the hungry are filled and those called blessed by the Lord have a place. And he is telling his hearers to make space here and now. Jesus is saying that many who are outside, have a place in the Kingdom that will be. But experiencing that reality now, is left in the hands of disciples choosing to make room. We make tables.
This is a story about you. One of the ways I experience grace in the life of this congregation is your freedom to make space for people.
Making space looks like concrete practices of welcome: it means noticing and reaching out; it means being careful that when we share in peace, everyone is included. It all matters, but that’s the simple, surface stuff; postures, practices that can only express the deeper work of grace in us.
And I see that in you. Our freedom to make space arrises from our knowing that space has been made for us. Its our memory of what God’s ‘yes’ to us felt like in the midst of whoever we have been. And what it felt like to be allowed to change by the people given to us. What it felt like to be received by people who accepted that you would change them. What it felt like to discover that what God has done for creation, is a story about you. Making space is an act of gratitude. Its a response to the way we have been found, forgiven, loved. Its a response to the Spirit at work in you, to the Christ who has made you his own. That’s who you are, beloved. That’s why you can be so different, and together.