Jesus was a great observer of human behaviour. He know us better then we know ourselves, and knows the reasons behind our actions, even when we are not fully aware ourselves.
We hear today that Jesus was at a dinner party, with a Pharisee (boo…hiss). One of the leading Pharisees as well!!! And they were watching him. But I think that Jesus was watching they pretty closely as well. He was watching and waiting for that opportunity to give them a message, to teach them a lesson.
Many people read these passages and only look at the surface. They read it as a lesson in etiquette. In Jesus’ day dinner parties were not just times for friends and family to get together, but there was a prescribed etiquette that governed who was to attend, where they sat and who with, what they were fed and how they were to be served.
But Jesus was not waiting to teach them about cleanliness, or the correct order to serve dishes, or how people were to sit. He was waiting, watching them for his moment to talk about the Kingdom of God, and how different it is to the world we live in.
As I said, there was a strict etiquette to who would attend such dinner parties, there was a great social divide which made some people acceptable, and others unacceptable in society. These occasions showed to everyone who was important and who was not.
Those of the most important got the best seats, the best food, and the very best and most wine. Those less important sat away from the top table, got lower quality food and the cheaper wine.
However, should a person of higher status arrive late, social customs permitted the host to tell a guest already seated to move…not ask, mind you, but tell: “Give up your seat!”
I don’t know about you, but I were asked to attend one of these occasions, I would spent the days before hand worrying about where I would sit, the embarrassment of being asked to move!
Jesus was watching very closely that night, determined to overturn any custom that would exclude or reject and, in his own way, told them a parable to get his message across to them without causing a riot.
“Think about your situation,” he suggested. “Because your way is not the way the Lord.”
“Your table must be open to the last as much as the first.” “The most humble, the ones that anyone of standing would never, left to their own devices, share a meal with…
- people who are poor, ill, disabled
- people with nothing left to lose
- people who are difficult, hard to take care of and need a lot of help
- people who think differently, believe differently, and act differently than you do
- people who have no way to repay
- people who will never be the life of any party
I don’t know about you, but I don’t hold many dinner parties. My house is too small for large gatherings (I only have four chairs). But this is more than just a dinner party. Jesus is talking more generally, about the people in our lives. And those people we invite into it, and those people we exclude, and try to keep away. Who is not welcome to share our table, who doesn’t get an invite? To our tables, to our clubs and groups, to our social gatherings, to our lives, to our church???
I’m sure we can all think of people who we have tried to keep away from, or a type of people that we find it difficult to accept or get along with so we exclude them. I am no exception in this, I’ve never made a list but I know I can think of people who I keep away from or I might not wish to be part of my life, people who scare me, or intimidate me, people who are overly loud and aggressive. Those people who drive too fast behind you on our country lanes and who get frustrated and start swearing at you because you are within the speed limit. Those who ignore you, or talk about you behind your back, and who you believe are making your life more difficult. Those we are jealous of. Those who have hurt us in the past.
If we are honest, most of us can think of people we might put on a ‘do not invite’ list. And I wonder what Jesus would have to say about that?
Jesus watches us just as closely as he watched those Pharisees that night, and I think he might be disappointed that we can feel like this. His message is that all are welcome at his table, all are welcome at the altar, with all of our faults and failings, with all of our fears and pain.
I am grateful that we have a God that does not condemn us for the baggage we carry with us, for our prejudices and fears of other people. But we must try harder as Jesus asks us to. We must try not to exclude within our own lives, because all people are children of God. If we believe the message that Jesus gives us, we are all brothers and sisters together, in Christ.
Jesus wills us to make a difference in our lives, and is asking us, inviting us, and praying that we can put aside our differences, the pasts that weigh us down, those things that put us into darkness, and instead choose to love.
‘Love the Lord with everything, and your neighbour as yourself.’
Let us move from our seats of judgement, go higher, to a seat closer to the Kingdom, closer to Jesus. To the seat that has been prepared for us. Amen.
Almighty God, whose only Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence: give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.