On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” —Luke 14:1, 7-14
That’s where this Sunday’s Gospel reading ends. We don’t get to hear how those in the room responded. The lectionary leaves us hanging there, creating an uncomfortable silence that awaits OUR response. It’s quite clever, actually, especially because Luke has created a similar space for his audience to enter into this story: Jesus is at a meal telling a story to the people at that meal about people at a meal, making it difficult to tell exactly where the parable begins and ends.
Like your uncomfortably awkward uncle at the Thanksgiving table, Jesus often says things—embarrassing things, blunt things, harsh things that no one wants to hear. Things that push and poke and prod. Things that make you inhale through your teeth and say, “Jesus, I really wish you hadn’t said that.”
In his jab at the party guests, we hear him dare us not to be players in the game of who is “in” and who is “out,” because there is no end to that game and because God knows our anxious scramble for greatness will lead to more anxiety, more suspicion, more loneliness, more hatred, more devastation, more segregation. The kingdom that Christ ushers in (in contrast to our own kingdoms) is not a kingdom of scarcity; it is one of abundance, where everyone is already welcome, already loved, already cherished.
In his swipe at the party host, we can feel him picking apart our conscious and unconscious participation in a stratified society, a stratified country, even stratified churches, where the likelihood of my even knowing the full name of someone who wouldn’t have the capacity to invite me back is—well, not much. And so he compels us to do the hard work of creating a common occurrence of these kinds of radical invitations.
As we dive into another program year in our pilgrimage toward the kingdom together, may our hearts be moved and our lives challenged by this parable within a parable that reminds us that where we sit speaks volumes, and the people whom we choose to welcome reveals the stuff of our souls.