Invitation to the VIP Suite

I remember the Old Testament tutor telling us how he had met his wife. He had been studying in New York at a Jewish seminary and attended synagogue on the sabbath. In the door way were cards, placed by members of the synagogue who had space for a visitor for lunch. Anyone could take a card and simply turn up and be welcome, because nobody was a pauper on the sabbath, everyone was a prince. Of course, he picked a card and turned up to have lunch at which the beautiful daughter was also in attendence….

Jesus is invited to share a meal in the house of the Pharisees on the sabbath. Perhaps he had been invited by this same principle, perhaps they were simply including him, as a rabbi, in the discussion often held at table, and Jesus was among them as teacher and preacher for theological and philosophical discussion. Perhaps the Pharisees were interested to see what scandal would occur with Jesus as their guest, after all ‘they were watching him closely’. What they weren’t expecting was a lecture from a guest on hospitality.

Jesus however notes the ungracious way in which the guests are vying for the best seats. Social etiquette denoted who would sit at the head of the table, who then at his (yes, his) right and left hand, and then moving down the table in lessening degrees of status. There is no humility in Jesus’ fellow diners, and each pushes to be seated at the head of the table. We are not told where Jesus has sat, whether he had been placed at the head of the table as the most interesting guest, even if not the most respected, or if he had simply seated himself at the other end of the table watching whilst diners jostle for top spot.

Either way, he sees them and their actions, and begins to tell a tale about being invited to a wedding party, which warns that in claiming the top seat guests faced the indignity of being asked to move aside for someone more important. It is far better to take the lower seat and be asked to move up, than it is to take a higher seat and be asked to move down. I wonder if any of the guests suddenly felt uncomfortable in their hard won seats?

The guests are not the only ones who face criticism, the host does too. The host is warned about being exclusive in his invitations, dining only with those who will invite him back in return, or can promote him and grace him with their favour.

Just as Jesus’ table etiquette is about humility in choosing where to sit, so is his guest list. Choose those who cannot offer hospitality to share your table. Be blessed in the presence of others and not by what they can offer in return.

Throw the banquet by all means, be lavish and generous, as Craddock comments,

Nothing for Luke can be more serious than a dining table.

Fred B Craddock

but be generous in your invitation of the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Invite the social outcast to be included in your social gathering.

As we read this story, we cannot help but think of another banquet. One at which he who should have sat at the head of the table, instead removed his robes, knelt at the feet of his guests and bathed them, taking on the role of the lowliest member of the household. We cannot help but think of the guests that evening, friends who would run away and hide when he was in trouble, friends who would betray him, deny even knowing him… This Jesus was not speaking uncomfortable truths for everyone else to ponder upon, but lived them out. This man, this rabbi, was accused by others of eating with publicans and sinners, whilst also providing a feast of bread and fish for those who would never be able to repay the offering.

And as we reflect upon the way that Jesus lived, perhaps we also reflect upon our own version of ‘hospitality’, a custard cream and a cup of tea after church and a quick ‘how are you’, really doesn’t cut the mustard, it really pales in comparison with the synagogue lunches on offer.

How are we to become more radical in our hospitality? Perhaps we could begin by giving up our precious seat on the train when it is packed to the gills? Perhaps we could share lunch after the service and not just ‘a nice cup of tea and a biscuit’? Perhaps when meeting someone new, whether in church or elsewhere, we ask them to come dine with us, and see what relationships blossom.

Read the full story here.

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