Jesus’ Dinner Table

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Proverbs 25:6-7

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Luke 14:1, 7-14

refugee dinner
THESSALONIKI, GREECE – 2016/06/15: A Kurdish family breaks the iftar dinner at Basilika Refugee camp. Basilika refugee camp is open for 4 days and is hosting the refugees from the EKO gas station informal refugee camp in Polycastro. (Photo by Omar Marques/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

When you throw a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends or your relatives or your rich neighbors, just in case they might invite you in return and you can be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Invite folks who will not pay you back and you will find yourself smack-dab in the middle of God’s blessing.

Jesus’ image of hospitality is a difficult one for many people to accept. Inviting folks- strangers- to a dinner party seems very odd. Intentionally seeking out people who will probably not be able to contribute anything to the meal or pay you back, seems self-defeating. Maybe we can come to terms with it if we accept it as mere charity. If we can think of this meal invitation as a one-and-done type of affair it becomes easier to accept. But Jesus doesn’t let us off of the hook so easily. For him, this meal is about relationship. Jesus tells this story about the dinner invitation to contrast the idea of someone throwing a dinner party so she or he can rub shoulders with some high falootin’ people. The person who throws the party is hoping something good comes out of this dinner. This isn’t charity, but this is an investment. Maybe if you invite certain people it will land you a high paying job or more popular friends or more invitations to the best social events. You throw this kind of dinner with these kinds of people because you do not want this to be the last time you see them. You want to be buddy-buddy with the big wigs.

Jesus flips the whole “common sense” idea on its head in just a couple of sentences. He teaches us that how God works and how God desires to see us work, is that we throw dinner parties for the folks who don’t usually get invited to the parties because they don’t have anything “valuable” to offer the host. God desires that dinner parties be thrown with the intention of getting into the inner circle and rubbing shoulders with those who are at the margins, who are lost, and who are forsaken. God particularly wants the poor and forgotten to be a part of God’s banquet.

Throw a dinner party for the folks who can’t pay you back. Be in relationship with them.

There is a refugee camp built on the grounds of an old psychiatric hospital at the base of Mount Olympus in Greece. This camp is home to 1,300 Yazidi women and men. The Yazidi are a religious minority from Iraq who were being targeted by ISIL, but some escaped the genocide and ended up at this refugee camp in Greece. Money is scarce in the camps, so a handful of enterprising individuals  started their own business. One man, Ahmad, started his own shop selling mostly vegetables and cigarettes. The cigarettes are the most popular item and they sell at 2 euros and 50 cents per pack.

Twice per week Ahmad takes a bus into town to purchase the cigarettes he will resell at his shop. When you factor in his cost for bus fare, each pack costs him 2 euros and 35 cents. That means Ahmad only makes about 15 cents profit per pack of cigarettes he sells. That is almost nothing.

A couple of times the interviewer noticed something strange happening. In the middle of the day, people would walk up to Ahmad and hand him money without receiving anything in return. The interviewer asked him about what was happening. Ahmad explained that sometimes when he is out of the shop, people will come in and simply take what they need. Sometimes they come back to him and repay him for the veggies or cigarettes that they took and sometimes they don’t. Ahmad trusts them and he seems to not be too concerned about whether or not they can give him something in return for the goods they take from his shop.

Ahmad keeps a little black notebook on him to keep track of who owes him how much money. According to his records he is owed about 200 euros from folks who have taken veggies and cigarettes without being able to pay. This is a huge amount considering that Ahmad used only 500 euros to start his shop. The interviewer is aghast. She tries to be helpful to Ahmad. She tells him that if he stopped letting people take his goods for free and start being concerned about whether or not the people he serves can pay him back, he might actually grow his business.

Ahmad admits that if he keeps losing money at this rate his shop will have to close soon. He continued,

I think my philosophy in the shop is to be able to help others. And stopping giving things on credit is simply out of the question. Because as long as I know that I can support the minimum. So if {I can meet the] need[s] of my family, then the rest would obviously have to be giving as a form of assistance to others, even if they couldn’t pay. Then I would shut down the shop and just become a customer myself.”

Ahmad knows very well the hardships and loss that his friends and neighbors in the camp have endured. It is because of that he is committed to offering them the goods they need for very little money or for free if need be. He is concerned with throwing a meal for those who are poor, marginalized, and in need and he does not care that he is getting little to nothing in return.

That is what the Kingdom of God looks like. At God’s dinner table all people are gathered and a special invitation goes out to the ones who can’t imagine that anyone could possibly want them at their table.

When we give a banquet like the one Jesus describes, we are experiencing and participating in the same fellowship that God has extended to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus takes the lowest seat in the house. He handed himself over to be humiliated and killed on a cross. In response to that, God the Father gave Jesus the best seat in the house and exalted him above all else. Jesus was resurrected and rose high above the power of sin and death.

Now Jesus is our banquet host and he invites all of us to his table where he sits at the head. And what can we give Jesus in return for this dinner? Can we give him a dinner that matches the love and life shared in his own body and blood? Can we offer something to Jesus, the Lord of Lords and firstborn of the new creation, something that he does not already possess? Certainly we can offer our God-given gifts in service to Jesus, but Christ does not invite us to the table so that he might get something in return. He invites us because he wants to be in relationship with us. He wants to rub shoulders with us and be buddy-buddy with us. He wants to run in our circles and he wants us to run in his. Christ is our host and he feeds us with the life-giving gift of his own body and blood simply because he wants to be in our lives and he wants us to abide in his life. Jesus encourages us to share that same dinner invitation with all those who are yearning to be invited.

 

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