Yoder-Short: Are leftovers enough?

Apr 23, 2018 by

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While preparing for our church’s turn at Free Lunch, my mind fills with tricky questions. How many guests really like coming? Are we hosting just to appear generous? Are we trying to rid ourselves of the shame of wealth? I blame my turmoil on Richard Q. Ford’s book, The Parables of Jesus and the Problems of the World.

Jane Yoder-Short


Prodded by Ford, Jesus’ parables now arrive with three-dimensional complexities. Heroes come with mixed motives. Did Jesus intend his stories to trigger tricky questions? Do “ears that hear” inevitably buzz with uncomfortable implications?

Jesus’ parables are dense with multiple meanings. But somewhere along the path we stop noticing inconvenient details. We lose our ability to see that the heroes, the God figures, come with puzzling complexities.

Serving Free Lunch collides with Jesus’ parable of the banquet, where the original invitees make lame excuses for not coming. The master becomes angry. He sends a servant out to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind. The free-lunch crowd. When there is still room, he sends his servant into the streets to compel people to come (Luke 14:16-23).

We typically view the banquet master as the God figure who kindly invites the marginal. With Ford’s 3-D glasses on, we see this banquet master is imperfect. We see him within his culture of shame and honor. This master has been snubbed. Is he trying to get back at those who shamed him and regain honor by inviting new guests?

Does he care about these new guests, or are they there to give him the appearance of being generous? Is his charity colored by desire for honor?

In his anger, he tells his servant to compel people to come. Do they have a choice?

We begin to see the complexities of these new guests. They are hungry. They are not going to say no to a banquet. They wouldn’t say no to dumpster diving.

Let’s imagine we’re peasants eating at this free banquet. When do we start thinking about how this master got wealthy? At some point, we realize his money came at our expense. Ford raises questions of what happens when the marginalized find their voice, when they begin to question the system and question who controls the wealth.

Do today’s free-lunch guests want to come, or are they compelled by our economic system? Even without 3-D glasses, the division between guests and servers is stark.

As Free Lunch hosts, we dream of ways to blur the line between diners and hosts. We dream of ways to make lunch more than some second-invite handout. We husk corn together. We serve homemade chocolate treats. We take turns eating with quests.

We need ears that hear the complexities of life on the margins.

Did the banquet host eat with the second set of invitees? What happens when a master begins to feel empathy?

Ford warns that if we see the householder as merely a figure for God, we can lose empathy for the dispossessed. Ford’s 3-D glasses show us both parables and life are messy. God wants the rich-poor divisions to come down.

What happens when we begin to see the stains the price of wealth leaves on our hands? How can we get beyond the mindset that our leftovers are enough? Do we have ears to hear the hard questions that Jesus’ parables pose?

Let’s keep listening to Jesus’ stories, even when they make us uncomfortable. They prod us to see our mixed motives, to love more deeply, to hold banquets where class divisions fade.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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