Bible: Look who isn’t coming to dinner

July 29 — Luke 14:15-24

Jul 16, 2018 by

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In the ancient world you could learn a great deal about people at mealtime. What people ate and who they ate with were quite revealing. Luke 14 certainly tells us a lot about Jesus — and about those who set themselves against him.

Ted Grimsrud

Grimsrud

The entire chapter recounts a meal Jesus shared at the house of a leader of the Pharisees. Now, the tone here actually seems to be one of mutual respect. But the Pharisees were “watching him closely” (verse 1) — just as Jesus was noticing them. And things were learned, especially about how Jesus understood the ideals of the community of God.

Upon noticing how guests of the Pharisees’ leader sought to sit at the place of honor, Jesus tells an upside-down parable about humility and follows that with a comment to his host about unconditional generosity: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (verse 13). That is, be generous toward those who cannot repay.

In response to Jesus’s words, a guest offered a blessing to all who “will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” That stimulates another parable from Jesus that explains something of what he thought about the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is like, we could say, a fancy dinner party to which are invited the host’s peers. These wealthy and distracted people give their regrets. They can’t come; they have possessions and family requiring their attention.

So the host follows what Jesus taught and invites many who cannot pay him back: the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.

When even all those marginalized people from “the streets and lanes of the town” do not fill up the banquet hall, the host expands the net to include people from “the roads and lanes” outside the town (verse 23). This indicates that he doesn’t only violate the boundaries between privileged and nonprivileged but also between “citizens” and “noncitizens.”

The host is generous. He also seems vindictive toward those who turned his invitation down. We should note, though that the actual reason those who were invited would not taste the dinner was because they chose not to attend.

What do we learn about God’s community from this story? As with most of Jesus’ parables, we are not served by looking too closely at the details. It is not as if every aspect of the story corresponds exactly with God.

At the core, though, is the embodiment of Jesus’ message about God’s unconditional generosity and, along with that, the call to humility. As well, as will be stated more forcefully in the next chapter of Luke in the story of the prodigal son, we see how careless self-styled insiders are about God’s invitation.

As Jesus makes clear in the parable of the great dinner, with such carelessness insiders condemn themselves. It is not that God actively punishes them but that God welcomes those whom the insiders put themselves above. When that happens, those whose sense of identity rests on boundary lines that elevate them begin to grumble: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (15:2).

Does this message have anything to say that challenges us as Christians in today’s congregations? Or as citizens in today’s nations that are wealthy with guarded borders? Do we tend to take our privilege for granted? Are we quick to grumble if that privileged status is challenged?

Jesus’ parables in Luke 14 join many of his other teachings and actions that underscore the message of Genesis 12: The purpose of being blessed by God is that we be empowered to bless others from all the families of the Earth.

Ted Grimsrud is senior professor of peace theology at Eastern Mennonite University in Harris­onburg, Va.


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