Heavenly Banquet

Sunday Scripture – September 1, 2019

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Reflection

In the United States, we are a people of great resources and privilege. Even the poorest among us is many times richer than the poorest people around the world. And, since we know that the poorest among us in the United States are greatly in need, how much more in need are people elsewhere?

It is instructive, that in this text about a wedding banquet, placement of honored guests, and those who usually go uninvited, most of us in our privileged community would locate ourselves among the invited guests who need to humble themselves. We would not generally place ourselves among those on the outside of the feast. But Jesus says in this parable that it is not enough to simply move to the lowest seat at the table, only assuming we are not the most distinguished people in the room. Rather, how we see the whole feast is not right.

Earlier in Luke, we see Jesus’ beatitudes lifting up those in our communities that would never rate honor and privilege in ordinary life – people in poverty, people who do not have enough food, people who are mourning, and people who are called names and excluded. But in Luke’s Beatitudes, Jesus does not stop there. Just as there are blessings coming for those who are suffering, those of us who have many resources, those of us who do not wonder where our next meal will come from, those of us who are happy, and those of us who have good reputations will find ourselves in woe. Perhaps it is because we assume that we deserve to be at this heavenly banquet, and that our current health, wealth and happiness are signs of that future reward, we miss the ways that we are not being how God wants us to be.

The lectionary does not include the next piece of text, which includes another feast parable, but it adds to the richness of this story. Upon hearing this first parable, one of the guests at the dinner Jesus is attending exclaims, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” This sounds like he gets it – the kingdom of God, this heavenly banquet, is for all. Hallelujah! He thinks that he is already blessed, and isn’t it so great that others will be, too. Isn’t he doubly blessed to be so enlightened?

But Jesus answers with another parable about another feast. He says that a great dinner is being planned, but every time the host invites people, they make an excuse for why they cannot attend. They have property or animals or a honeymoon to attend to. We are brought back to the Beatitudes, and reminded that those of us with many resources and happiness may miss the invitation to the heavenly banquet. We are too busy with our earthly ones.

As long as we accept that the world has haves and have-nots, and we do not get rid of the systems that create poverty, hunger, and continued suffering (it is expensive to be poor), we will continue to ignore the invitation to the heavenly banquet. It is not enough to understand that all should be invited to the feast, it matters that we still imagine barriers to the feast. It matters that we assume there will always be poor people and we work to eliminate the symptoms of poverty instead of the causes of it. It matters that we assume that we are the rich and honored ones invited to the party and that it is up to us to share that wealth and honor with those sad sacks on the outside, when we aren’t even at the party.

Jesus tells us that the way we view honor and riches is not the way God does. The people who do not ignore the invitation are those whom we should not see as added guests to a feast we deserve to be at, but rather already invited guests who will occupy the most honored seats at the table.

Questions

  1. Where would you have placed yourself in the story before reading the reflection? Where do you place yourself now? Why? (This could be in the same place in the story or not – these questions are simply so that you can do some honest reflection of your own.)
  2. What are the things in your life that might be holding you back from fully embracing God’s invitation?
  3. How might we let go of what holds us back, or change how we hold onto them so that we can see and respond to God’s invitation more fully?

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