Twelfth sunday After Pentecost: September 1, 2019
Year C, Proper 17: Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14
There was no audio recording of this sermon. It was prepared by The Rev. Kathleen Murray using Sermons That Work and preached by lay members of the congregations at services of Morning Prayer.
The passage from the Gospel of Luke today focuses on a meal. It reminds us that hospitality and meals were important in the first century. One of our more recent gospel readings was the story of Mary and Martha and another meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. Jesus loved the gatherings at meals.
Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Jesus himself acknowledges that he’s been called a glutton and drunkard. He doesn’t deny that he enjoys his portion. He seems to go from place to place, house to house, one meal after another.
The setting for today’s story is again the Sabbath. Remember that the Pharisees are watching Jesus closely, especially since Jesus has already been accused of violating the Sabbath as we heard in last week’s gospel reading.
Jesus has been invited to a meal at the house of a leading Pharisee, somebody who would have been very important in religious circles. All the “right people” would be at this dinner. Only the elite of Galilee or Bethlehem or Jerusalem would have been invited – bankers, doctors, lawyers, rabbis.
In the first century, as it is often in today’s world, an invitation to a banquet was more than simply an offer to eat. It had significant social and economic meaning. Meals, particularly banquets and wedding feasts were a place and time that highlighted your status in relationship to the host. To be invited meant that you were somebody “special”.
And, of course, there would be polite conversation. Jesus listened to all that polite conversation and then he offered some of his own advice. In the Bible translation called The Message it describes the conversation he had like this: “Look. The next time you have a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, and the other Pharisees. Instead, invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. If you do that you’ll be – and you will experience – a blessing. Oh, by the way, they won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned! – at the resurrection of God’s people.”
That is not how I was taught, nor you, I suspect, to talk to a person who has graciously invited me to dinner. If his mother, Mary, heard about her son’s behavior, she might not have been too happy about it.
But the reality is that we all like to have a place at the banquet, and in all honesty, who doesn’t want to be at the head table or right next to the head table, in a place of honor.
Of course, there are those pesky instructions given by Jesus to the hosts of the Sabbath dinner. Don’t invite just your friends and family or other people of so-called honor. What are we missing when we want so much to be part of the honored crowd?
Jesus is offering a dose of humility to his followers and to us in this parable. “When you are invited to a banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host.” That verse from Luke is almost exactly like our first reading from Proverbs. “It is far better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”
And along with humility, there’s another truth that Jesus is getting at in the gospel.
Jesus is describing God’s banquet, one which will include everyone, not just the wealthy and friends and relatives, but also the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.
Luke often portrays Jesus eating and drinking – from when he first calls Matthew, the hated tax collector, to be his disciple over supper through his Last Supper Passover meal with his disciples. Perhaps even more importantly the Jesus we see in Luke is where the table is open to everyone. Everyone was and is welcome at that table.
Our lesson today is very clear. God’s banquet is open to all and if we attend and expect that everyone at this banquet will be just like us, we will be very disappointed. Jesus is telling us that as hosts, we must realign our priorities to reflect and reinforce the value of God’s relationship with all God’s children.
There is no reservation required to dine in Jesus’ restaurant – everyone is welcome, – rich and poor, men and women. People of all ages, races, ethnicities, religions and national origin.
As faithful people, we must recognize that in the eyes of Jesus, we are all equal. Therefore, where we sit is less important than who we offer a seat to. In our zeal to get ourselves in the presence of important people, we can begin to look like we are playing a game of musical chairs. We can’t be afraid of where we are seated because God challenges us to demonstrate a willingness to make space for others at the banquet table.
In Hebrews, we are admonished to graciously give up our cherished seat and “show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Jesus’ banquet table must never be a place reserved exclusively for the elite. The important thing to remember is that we are all welcome at in God’s grace. Christ is always waiting for us and for all those whom we encounter. Christ is waiting for us, offering us a deep and abiding love and asking us to share it with the world.
 (cf. The Message by Eugene Peterson).
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