Social Graces and Dinner Spaces: A New Order to God’s Kingdom
Luke 14:1, 7–14
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. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.
But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He 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.”
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, grace and peace be with you all.
It was 18 years ago this month that the Olympics were held in Athens, Greece — the first time the games had been held there since their modern incarnation in 1896.
One of the big news stories from the Athens Olympiad involved Wisconsinite, Paul Hamm. Now retired, Hamm became a three-time Olympic medalist and the most successful American male gymnast in history. But he is also the gymnast who captured a great deal of attention at the 2004 Olympics when a controversy arose after the judges messed up the score of a Korean gymnast. There had been an error of one-tenth of a point in favor of the Korean athlete — yet Hamm had already been announced as the gold medal winner.
After the scoring issue erupted, many opinion pieces were written saying Paul Hamm should have returned the gold medal. Some people thought Olympic officials should have awarded a second gold medal for the Korean gymnast. The most interesting idea came from a few writers who suggested that Hamm should have taken his gold medal, walked over to the Korean gymnast and hung the medal around his neck. That would truly have been a magnanimous thing to do.
But I suspect Paul Hamm’s pride was the reason he did not give away the gold medal which really belonged to the Korean gymnast.
Pride is something we all know and are reticent to speak about. But as we will see in today’s reading, Jesus talked about it — which is enough reason for us all to take a little PQ — Pride Quotient test. Now all you have to do is just sit right where you are. You do not need a pencil or paper. This shouldn’t be scary. Simply listen to the following statements and in your mind answer Yes or No. Ready?
1. I enjoy being the object of people’s attention.
2. I think I deserve the best.
3. I seldom pass a mirror without looking at myself.
4 I’m not appreciated enough for all that I do.
5. I am offended if I do something for someone and am not thanked.
6. I seldom ask for help, because I can do the job better myself.
7. I feel good that I did not answer YES to every question!
If you answered YES even once, you have pride. If you did not answer YES at all, it simply reveals you are not admitting the truth about yourself. Pride is much easier to see in others than in ourselves. The issue of pride kicks off the bible reading from Luke today. It is a story of Jesus arriving at a dinner banquet. He’s being watched by the Pharisees to see if he’ll take a place of honor. Yet, right away Jesus notices how the guests were tripping over each other, seeing who could get the best spot at the table. Shocked at their pride, Jesus tells a story to make his point.
Speaking to the guests, Jesus gently chides them for their breach of etiquette and their pride. In a not-so-subtle way, Jesus says, “Do not risk showing your pride quotient by taking a seat at the head of the table. Because after all the guests arrived, you might not be the most honored one and then you will be told to get up and move to the end of the table. And then what would happen to your pride?
This is a lesson in table manners & social graces. The story could have ended right here. But Jesus continues. Next, he turns to the host of this dinner banquet and says:
“When you host a luncheon or dinner banquet , do not invite your friends or relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you host a dinner, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind — the people who are overlooked or excluded.”
Bad social graces on Jesus’ part, isn’t it? Imagine the chagrin of the dinner host being called out by Jesus who gives unsolicited advice. Whoever would throw a dinner banquet and invite the poor, crippled, the outcast of society?
In telling this second part of the story, Jesus plays God’s hand. In this we get a good picture of an embracing God who has an eye for the people that are marginalized or wrongly judged by society.
In Jesus’ day — people who were blind, lame, or poor were outcasts and especially overlooked by religious people. Their afflictions were considered punishment by God for some sin. So, they were shut out, excluded. They were not allowed in religious gatherings like worship.
It would be like a church having signs outside saying: “If you’re handicapped, you can’t be here.” Or it would be like instructing the ushers to “keep an eye out for any incoming walkers, wheelchairs, or people on crutches and be sure to turn them away.”
Jesus’ advice to this dinner host is just the opposite. He says, when you host a dinner and you invite the poor, lame, blind, outcast, Jesus says you will be blessed — because they cannot repay you.
Blessed. You will be blessed when you expand your guest list — when you pay attention and extend love and hospitality to people others judge as unfit and unable to give you something in return.
You see, if Jesus had stopped talking after the first part of the story where he chided the guests who jockeyed for the good seats at the dinner table, what would we think? Jesus would sound a lot like a first century Miss Manners. But Jesus goes on and uses a teachable moment to talk about something near and dear to his heart: the new order of God’s kingdom.
In the new order of God’s kingdom, everyone has a place at the dinner banquet . No one is more important than anyone else. Jesus uses other parties to tell us about the kingdom of God and the Bible makes clear who is invited to God’s banquet. The guest list is a lot bigger than the religious leaders of Jesus’ day imagined. They thought they were so important, deserving of honor. They had a high pride quotient!
But in this bible reading Jesus goes after human pride and says:
Do not get too smug, presuming to know
*who is a sinner and who is not.
*who deserves God’s favor and who does not.
*who is invited to the banquet in God’s house and who cleans up the table.
Is this a message we need to hear? Does pride lead us to think that we are better than others — better than the person in the line at the food pantry, or the young mom using a SNAP card at the grocery store, or the mentally ill, the physically challenged, the poor, uneducated or unemployed?
This bible reading has Jesus noticing the pride of dinner guests who try to claim power and honor — and a host who needs to broaden the guest list. But the deeper message is not simply about social graces and dinner spaces. It is about the new order to God’s kingdom that Jesus was bringing to this world. This new order shows us God’s justice and God’s heart for all people — especially those who have negligible status.
God may not be big on social graces — to paraphrase the country western singer Garth Brooks. But God is big on bringing to this world a kingdom with a new order in which inclusivity, love and justice prevail. Oh yes, and God wants us to humbly extend the same to