Sharing Our Banquet


[Sermon preached for Wenatchee Brethren-Baptist via Zoom, 1-23-22]

I’ve been thinking about love a lot recently. Not the love of the movies, which my wife and I pronounce “Luv” L-U-V, which always seems to come with a soundtrack and most of the time concludes with all the problems resolved for the main characters. I’ve been thinking about the love Jesus talks about. 

Luke 14: 12 He [Jesus] 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. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus is talking about giving here, but I’d say in the bigger picture, he’s talking about love. Now, if there was ever a Scripture for which it sounds like we might be off the hook in 2022, it’s this one, right? How many of you are throwing banquets right now? Any banquets planned for later today? None, I hope. We’re not even meeting together in a church sanctuary to worship God together; you better not be telling me “we’re not meeting in person” but later today you’re all throwing banquets and inviting one another and not me. Truly, truly, I tell you, my feelings would be hurt. 

I don’t think we are off the hook for this teaching. As I was reflecting on Jesus’ words, one of those really uncomfortable thoughts jumped into my head, the kind that you immediately realize you can’t just forget again. You know, that ring of truth? I can’t speak for you, but my response to these glimpses Jesus gives me tend to follow a pattern. 

First, I think “Oh, wow. That’s a powerful truth.” 

Then I think, “Uh-oh. This is going to require me to change!” 

Then the crucial step: I have to decide whether I’m going to dig into what Jesus just confronted me with or find some way to fend it off. Depending on how I handle that fork in the road, there may be a fourth step, wherein I realize, “Oh, wow, this is lifegiving for me!” 

If I take the other fork, I’ve learned that Jesus will find a way to start the process again. Have you had that experience, where you think, “Wow, Jesus keeps bringing the same lesson back to me, over and over?” That may be because we’re trying to say “No, thank you.” 

We’re not off the hook for Luke 14:12-14 because Jesus isn’t speaking merely about literal banquet hosting. When we look at Jesus’ words, we remember that we take them seriously without always taking them overly literally–or solely literally. By that, I mean it would be kind of ludicrous to obey Jesus here by never, ever inviting your friends or brothers or relatives to lunch or dinner. Jesus doesn’t mean “Don’t ever eat with family.” 

Jesus means, “Don’t give and share solely in the hope of repayment.” In First-Century Israel–and in much of the world–the basic economy of life was bartering, and this included one’s social standing. You do favors for powerful people who will then owe you so that they will repay you and elevate your standing in your community.  For example, when Jesus teaches in Luke 16 about the “dishonest steward.” The man cooks the books, right, changes the ledger for what various wealthy people owe to his master so that they will owe him (not his master) and take care of him by repaying him. Make sense?

Therefore, when Jesus addresses the man who has hosted this banquet and invited Jesus, it’s a little uncomfortable. Okay, let’s be honest–it’s probably quite uncomfortable. You see why, right? If I’m talking with you in general, abstract terms about people having good table manners, you might wonder if I’m talking about you, but hey, it might just be a chat about those people, right? But if I bring up table manners, chomping and slurping and chewing with your mouth open, during the meal, and I keep looking right at you, what are you likely to conclude?

 “Hey! I think he’s talking about…me!” Jesus–who has become popular and important and has people following him and listening to him, has big crowds gathering to hear him speak, and has the religious leaders debating about him, oh, and rumor has it he’s also performed various miracles!–just told the man who invited him to a banquet not to invite important people to banquets. 

You see? It’s a little too direct for comfort. Jesus does this kind of thing. By the way, that’s why we have a guest in verse 15 trying to break the tension 15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  Like, “Hooray for all of us!” 

Jesus, of course, does not allow that kind of mollifying, let’s-brush-these-strong- words-under-the-rug, so he tells a parable, perhaps even more challenging, as to those who will reject the invitation to “A banquet” and how the Banquet thrower will invite in the poor, the disabled, the sick, and even those just out on the roadside, instead of the honored guests who said, “Yeah, I can’t come.” 

Now we’ve got context. Jesus confronts a cultural attitude and practice in which we give and share in order to get ahead, to profit, to get back more than we gave. It’s strategic. This isn’t just their culture, of course. 

I started thinking about this banquet teaching in terms of relationships and you’re about to understand how I went from “Wow, that’s a powerful truth” to “That’s going to require me to change.”  Sometimes, because of who I am and what I do, I have some challenging, emotionally needy people in my life. I’m neither boasting nor complaining, this is simply a fact. Likely someone out there thinks of me as the emotionally needy person in their life, but we’ll save that for a different sermon. 

Currently in my community we are trying to love someone like this who, as far as I can tell,  is completely un-self-aware. The person is demanding, and specifically demanding of more attention, which, in my experience, is particularly off-putting in an adult. I’ve learned that to love well someone in this condition, we need community. We need community not in the abstract, as an ideal, but rather we need a number of people committed to this person’s healing who will give of themselves, and share the emotional load. We’re being honest with one another now, you and I. Needy people are both hard to love and exhausting. When only one person tries to do this, it’s like trying to rescue a drowning person—you get pulled and shoved under a few times, grabbed and kicked and elbowed, and pretty soon, you don’t want anything to do with the person you were trying to help. Because of course it isn’t just giving someone a little attention. Loving someone enough to help them to heal is a long-term commitment. 

Now I’m going to say something that may be obvious, but also uncomfortable in light of this teaching: we are inclined to have relationships with the people who can “pay us back.” Remember, relating with people who are enjoyable for us is not a bad thing, in itself. Jesus didn’t mean literally “I never want to see you eating with your family again” or “don’t hang out with people you enjoy, only those who exhaust you.” Jesus challenged us to think about how we “give” only in order to be repaid, to those we see have something to give back. 

This moment of clarity for me was “Oh, I need to see what I have to offer relationally as ‘the banquet.’” 

I’m merely giving an example right now. I’m sharing with you the example that struck me, and offering this to you in case it also challenges you. 

Remember, I said my little epiphanies tend to come in three steps?

First was, “Oh, banquets in Jesus’ parable might be substituted for ‘offering relational connectedness.” This came to mind specifically because my brain went “This person is hard to love…and it isn’t very rewarding to try…because I’m not feeling reciprocally loved for my effort…which is just like what Jesus says! ‘Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” and you will be blessed because they can’t repay you.”

God’s justice looks like this, doesn’t it? When people are left out, when people have less, when people draw the lousy cards or suffer persecution or oppression, Scripture makes very clear God stands with them. “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Prov. 14:31

If we don’t stand with them, God says, “Okay, I stand with them against you.” If that strikes us as an uncomfortable thought, I believe it should. The U.S. church has a tendency toward a “Jesus and me” attitude so that we can’t imagine Jesus standing against us. But we aren’t the spoiled children of the Kingdom of God, for whom Jesus will say, “Oh, if you want to devalue Black lives, sure, go ahead, I’ll just go along with you.” “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker.” For Jesus. God still loves us and has grace for us when we take the wrong side…but God stands against us and confronts us. God’s offer of grace doesn’t go away but Jesus lets us know we’re wrong. 

God’s justice is “I’m watching out for those who are on the outside–the poor, the broken, the chronically suffering, the disabled, those valued least in society.” So we can’t be surprised when Jesus says “invite them to your banquets! Stop excluding them in favor of folks who can pay you back and help you get ahead!” 

Now I’m at Step 2 of my epiphany. “Uh-oh. This is going to require me to change.” Reading from James 2:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We say God stands with the oppressed and impoverished. Jesus banquets with them. Listen to Jesus’ command here in this passage again:

Luke 14: 12 He [Jesus] 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. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

God’s idea of including is more than “don’t be part of causing the problem.” You see that? When we say God sides with the oppressed, Jesus doesn’t leave it at “So don’t you be oppressing.” That’s a huge difference. 

The teaching of the banquet is Jesus answering “Hey, I didn’t do it. I didn’t own slaves. I don’t keep workers in sweatshops. I didn’t make those people in Honduras poor or threaten their lives to cause them to come here.” The teaching of the banquet goes beyond “I’m innocent as long as I didn’t cause the problem.”  When we say God stands with the impoverished and oppressed, we mean if we are Jesus followers, God invites them to our banquet. We look at the people coming in, who look a little ragged, and we might say “Uhh, hey, who invited you?” And they all alike say, “Oh, Jesus invited me.” 

I’m sure you can see now how this struck me as “uh-oh.” Of course, I’m half joking about “uh-oh.” I want Jesus to change me, to show me how to love, not luv, and I believe that God’s word for me is life. This specific word is life, because it leads me to a more generous, abundant way to live, not keeping careful account if I’m getting paid back for everything I do. Seeking  to be generous with those who cannot repay us means we believe Jesus when he says “ But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed.” 

We believe that having our hearts changed to become more loving and generous is better for us than making sure we profit off every interaction. “For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” I think this means more than “You will make the cut and get into heaven.” The Kingdom of God, Jesus teaches, is both now, here, present, and life with God forever. We are living now the eternity with God that is the resurrection of the righteous. We are becoming the people who will desire to be part of this Kingdom that values everyone equally. 

[Nicaragua–sharing with and receiving from Juan Carlos and Mileydi]

This is the beginning of Step 3 that I was describing in my process of responding to God’s nudge about the banquet : we’re Digging further into the truth God revealed, seeing the implications,  and figuring out how to act. I’m inviting you to join me.  

If we take Jesus’ teaching about banquets seriously, then I think all we have to offer becomes the banquet table. That doesn’t mean we literally give away all we have; it means our resources–all our resources–become part of what we consider sharing with those who need it, who can’t easily–or ever–repay us. We see what we have to offer differently. Jesus calls us to a generosity of life.. 

Now we pray for God to show us whom we can invite to our banquet. 

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