By Pamela Lewis
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 14:12-24
12 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. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”
While dining at the house of a Pharisee, Jesus heals a man with dropsy. At a wedding in Cana, Jesus changes water into wine. Enjoying Mary and Martha’s hospitality, Jesus points out that Mary has chosen what is better. Whether host or guest, Jesus is always about his Father’s business, and a meal is an occasion for him to respond to others’ need for food, healing, teaching, or correction.
In today’s passage, which takes place at a feast, the Pharisees are watching Jesus, but he is watching the other guests as they vie for the best places. His watching gives way to speaking in the form of a parable, a teaching on the nature of the upside-down kingdom Jesus is always talking about. To be honored, we should “dishonor” ourselves, opening the possibility that the host will offer us the best seat.
Jesus then parabolically speaks of what constitutes the ideal guest list for a feast. We want to have our best buddies and kin at our parties; but we should not invite only those we already know and are comfortable with. The guest list of the kingdom of God (the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, Rev. 19:9) must include the excluded, because they can never repay the host. A guest’s remark that blessings will be bestowed on those who eat bread in God’s kingdom seems off-hand; but Jesus points out that those who were originally invited sometimes make lame, worldly excuses for not showing up at the heavenly feast the host has prepared just for them, in which case the host must compel outsiders to come so that his house may be filled and his feast enjoyed.
The ideal guest shows humility to both the host and to other guests, and the ideal host extends hospitality to all, not satisfied until they have been persuaded to come to the great feast. Such are the traits of an other-centered rather than self-centered life. May we bear this mind for the next dinner party.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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