Who Are You Having Dinner With?


Who Are You Having Dinner With?

Jesus eats with a lot of different people in a lot of different settings. We might wonder why he accepts certain invitations, especially when we find him eating with individuals who we might identify as his enemies?

In making a judgment such as this, that Jesus had enemies, we might be projecting our own bias onto scripture. Can we love like Jesus and break bread with those we don’t like, who we might identify as enemies in our own lives? Can we deepen our understanding towards the message of scripture and see the great expanse of God’s love?

Scripture: Luke 14: 1, 7-14

Who are you having dinner with?

That may very well be the question that arises out of this passage. Of course, the other question might be where will you be sitting at the table? There are some themes here that we see at other places in the gospel. Remember when James and John ask Jesus if they can sit at his right and his left? A place of high honour, same sort of thing is going on here. This passage is less about devaluing people or just as bad not seeing our own worth. The message here seems to be that all people have worth even if you might think otherwise. Remember our theme from last week, divine mercy? Our parable today reframes how divine mercy might look and play out in our lives.

It turns out we can have a direct impact on how individuals receive God’s blessing of divine mercy. On the one hand we can act as gracious hosts as Jesus asks us to do at the end of the parable, by making the table open for all. However, we can also fall into a trap of false modesty through our acts of graciousness.

Consider the following illustration that Chelsey Harmon provides, “In the pilot episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Midge repeatedly yells inside and outside the 1950s butcher shop as she orders a brisket, “We got the rabbi!” She is excited because rabbi is coming to break his fast on Yom Kippur with her family—a prestigious opportunity among big competition within the synagogue congregation. It’s a good sign to have the rabbi come for dinner; it means that she and her fiancé will likely be able to secure their preferred wedding date with the rabbi. For the family, it’s not just the exaltation they will get from hosting a distinguished guest, it’s what that guest will then give them in return for their hospitality. Would the rabbi coming to dinner be such a big deal if they weren’t looking to get married? Would she make sure she got the kind of lamb cut that the rabbi likes if she didn’t need to secure his favour?” (Chelsey Harmon)

An important question to consideration as we ponder who we are having dinner with, is why we are having dinner with them. Is it because we are looking to gain something or is it because we are providing the same sort of hospitality that God offers. We might ask the same question when we join groups, service clubs, or other organizations. Are we joining to get a leg up on business or out of a genuine desire to serve?

This passage which is unique to Luke provides us with what we might call Wisdom of the Table. Consider the gospels and the number of times that Jesus breaks bread and shares a meal with people. We learn so much from him in these occasions. We realize that Jesus sits and speaks with so many individuals from so many different walks of life. It’s no wonder we enjoy sitting and enjoying meals with one another.

Jesus uses this situation he has been invited into to teach about restorative justice and how God’s kingdom works. There are lessons in humility, grace, and mercy present within this parable. However, the scene is transformative when we consider power dynamics and how we understand our human systems of social status to work. Jesus describes a transformative scene, a reversal of accepted and understood social and economic norms. What Jesus describes, turns things on their heads.

Carolyn Sharp reminds us that this passage does more than give us a glimpse of what heaven might look like, she writes, “The radical hospitality centered in Luke’s theology of feasting should not be understood simply as a glimpse of God’s eschatological banquet. Rather, Jesus’ exhortation to host “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” constitutes a strong political challenge to the finely calibrated reciprocity governing social interactions under Roman imperialism. Countering oppressive social and economic norms is core to the gospel as Luke presents it.” (Carolyn Sharp)

That concept of calibrated reciprocity in social interaction is still at play today within our own social interactions. Jesus reminds us that by being the host and welcoming others to the table we aren’t promoting ourselves, but the wonderful grace of God. Of course, we should be mindful to remember this scene and parable from Luke do not mean that Jesus sought to shame the host. If you read closely we see that it is not the host that Jesus is speaking to, it’s the other guests who have made assumptions about their importance. Jesus isn’t lecturing the host about where people are sitting, rather about the assumptions we make for ourselves and about ourselves.  

I think the real challenge that comes with a deeper reading of this passage is that sometimes we are guilty of making judgements. We assume Jesus is against a certain group as they often appear as antagonists in the gospels. Joy Moore writes, “God loves the rich just as much as God loves the poor.”

Sometimes that’s difficult thought to reconcile no matter where you happen to sit. On this question Moore asks the following question of herself: “Did I love Jesus enough to truly love those God loves?” (Joy Moore) Jesus kept company with many different sorts of people. From those on the fringes of society to those who held position and status. Jesus was invited to a meal at the leader of the Pharisees house, a powerful and influential individual in society, and he went. Jesus doesn’t decline the invite and then tell a parable to the disciples. Jesus goes to the banquet and while under the watchful eye of the Pharisees tells this powerful parable about restorative justice.

We think of those who were in attendance as guests, but the Greek is literally those who were invited. This is a powerful reminder that we are invited into God’s banquet.

What Jesus describes is table wisdom. Rather than sitting in a seat where you might be disgraced if asked to move, instead you may receive an honour by being moved closer to the head of the table. Jesus goes further and says don’t through a banquet in the hopes of being invited to someone else’s banquet. Instead, hold a banquet for those who couldn’t possibly repay you. In giving in such a way are we truly blessed.

I want to leave you with this quote from Joy Moore, “Spirit-filled people of God are different from the world because of their testimony, not their titles. It’s not membership in a certain group that determines your character. It’s how we handle life, from our marriage to our money—regardless of the labels assigned by others. If your listening community includes those who have status, power, and privilege, Jesus words bring life to them also. In these moments, when so much discord creates a desire to be judge, jury, and firing squad, rereading this scene for more than ammunition takes prayer and patience.” (Joy Moore)

The point is to be hospitable, whether you are the host or the guest.

May Jesus be present at all your meals this week. Amen.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security. 

Kristina Nairn

Public Health Nurse, HKPR Health Unit

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