By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: Luke 14: 7-18a, 22-24
Background Scripture: Luke 14: 7-24
As is so often the case, today’s lesson breaks into an unfolding event. A prominent Pharisee has invited Jesus to dinner on a Sabbath! Not only is this a significant moment for Jesus, but Luke warns us about how closely Jesus is being watched! Table fellowship in the Jewish culture was filled with pitfalls and Jesus is in the spotlight and in a danger zone. A suffering man is present, and, once again, Jesus heals on the Sabbath.
At this point, the lesson begins. Not only is Jesus being watched, but he himself is observant, as always. The persons with whom you ate reflected your character. “A person is known by the company they keep.” Jesus sees the guests elbowing for places of prominence at the table. This universal characteristic of human beings, wanting to be noticed, gives Jesus an opportunity to teach about the attitude of humility. His advice is very practical!
Once, while serving a church in Columbus, Sam was invited to a dinner at Ft. Benning. The event was co-sponsored by the Commanding General of the Post and the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. Arriving, he found a place among the guests in the large hall and sat down visiting with some friends he knew. Suddenly, everyone at the table became very quiet as the General came to where he was sitting and asked him to come with him to the Head Table. Of course, he accepted, but, as he was leaving, he quoted this very passage to those he left behind! (When the telephone invitation was given, the person didn’t tell him he was to give the Invocation as part of the program!) Oh yes, he was flattered to be escorted by the General himself to the head table!
Jesus warns about thinking too much about self. There are times when you can be embarrassed. Then, Jesus gives one of those enigmatic sayings he liked: Remember the one when he said: “The first shall be last and the last first”! This time, the subject is humility: “Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” Here is a lesson Jesus gives verbally but he will live out to the very end! The cross, long the emblem of suffering and shame, will lift Him to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
In verse 12, Jesus “quits preaching and goes to meddling!” He tells me not to invite the very folk I want to invite! What kind of dinner party is this going to be? He is, of course, describing a Kingdom dinner party where God’s grace and justice reign supreme! Jesus is using a current event to describe what is to be – and should begin to be now!
The issue of repayment is crucial in the decisions in making the invitation list. Our thought process is to invite those who can do something for us or to whom we owe a social debt. In the economy of the Kingdom, “payback” is not the currency in vogue. The bigger picture is whether or not we have the awareness of our inability to repay God. If we should think there is anything we can do to earn God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and justice we will be those who are asked to sit somewhere else at God’s banquet table – or, as we shall see later, miss the feast altogether!
The African-American spiritual puts this moment in song: “I’m gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days, hallelujah.”
The Church needs to hear and heed this message right now! Much of our evangelism is inviting persons of prominence to join our church. People who can do something for us, for the budget, or for the reputation of our church are the ones we want as fellow members. Again, Luke’s “last, least and lost” are not on our invitation list.
Recently our pastor, who is just beginning his ministry with us, had a series of meetings in people’s homes to get to know us better. However, he was also looking for a “wish list” of what we wanted our church to be. In the group we attended there was an honesty about a lack of openness and welcome to some folks. As a result, the church has an elitist reputation in our community where some people felt they would not fit in.
Here is the ultimate judgment upon the church of Jesus Christ. If we followers of Christ give any person the impression they are not welcomed in Christ’s Church because of some status test, may God have mercy on our souls! Consider this category list: where you live, the work you do, where you go (or went) to school, the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, your marital status – the standards we set can be endless.
When considering Church, our guest list isn’t about ourselves, but about God. We are God’s people in the world. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” As God’s representatives on earth, we are the ones to be the vessels by which others come to know this loving God. Any barriers we erect to block the divine transaction God wants to have with everyone brings us and our church under divine judgment.
The last verses in today’s lesson reiterate the message of judgment (vs. 22-24). Again, the preceding verses, where excuses are given, are omitted! The excuses sound like some we have heard why people miss church. Business, property, family – Jesus knows us so well! For Jesus there is no excuse! He yearns for the heavenly feast to be full and he doesn’t seem to care who comes. We used to sing, “Bring them in, bring them in, bring the wandering souls to Jesus.” The scriptures are full of the openness and inclusiveness of the Kingdom. “Whosoever will may come.” “It is not God’s will that any should be lost.” “There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond or free, male or female.”
That’s the Kingdom feast – that’s what Church is all about!