“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. 13 Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” 15 Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet[c] in the Kingdom of God!”
16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 Another said, ‘I now have a wife, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’” | Luke 14:12-24
I’ve always heard the story told as an opportunity for me to do “the right thing.” As if, were I to choose to do something else, I would be fine, but they wouldn’t be. If I choose to do “the right thing,” then they will be better off…but don’t worry; I’ll get mine. I’ll be rewarded when kingdom comes in its fullness.
And yet, this past week, I heard it all differently.
When you throw a party, invite the people you would never invite. When you do, all the rules change. Instead of it being about a who’s who, a name-dropping-affair in an effort to get an invite to the actual parties, it becomes a whole different affair. It becomes more like a dinner party in the kingdom of God.
And it will be incredible.
If you think you are too good to sit down at the table with the homeless man, the chronically ill woman, the woman out of prison, the man who stands just outside of downtown Jackson in the soup kitchen parking lot staring at the street as North Highland traffic drives by…if you think you are too good to have them at your party, you’ll invite all the “important people,” and they will…no doubt…stand you up. And when you invite the man from the corner to keep from embarrassing yourself when no one else shows to your party, you will actually find that you are enjoying yourself––perhaps even becoming more of yourself. You are likely to decide that the “men of standing” aren’t invited to your parties anymore.
This weekend, and these last several days, I have been thinking about the people I wouldn’t have invited to my table in the first place. Those who come in for counseling just out of jail. The people who show up for help on their utility bills because times are hard. The people who think God is mad at them because they left a fist-throwing spouse five years ago, but sat down for a church service sermon today about “sticking with it” for God’s sake. I think about the things that they have taught me that I would never, ever have learned otherwise.
The things that I now know to be true about God’s world, because I ended up, despite my best efforts, throwing and enjoying a dinner party with “them.”
Truth is told as we sit together at the table. Passing the bread. Refilling the wine.
The passage has haunted me for much of the last week, and much of this weekend. It’s been more of a fair warning than an opportunity for me to be “more than fine” by doing “the right thing.”
When I throw a party, if I want to know anything about the truth of the world, and the depths of God’s love, and the promise of God’s kingdom––if I want to be taken from my safety and cowardice at all into something bigger and truer––then I will invite the homeless, the ill, the ex-cons, the poor, the lonely; I will invite them to my table. I will throw a party and they will be the guests on my actual guest list. I need them at my party more than they need to be invited. Not so much because it will be good for them, or the right thing to do, but because I need to see the world as they see it. Not because I will teach them about Jesus, but because they will allow me to meet him. Not because I will tell them about the kingdom, but because they will open my eyes so I can see it.
It is at the party table that we will find it. Sitting together. Passing the bread. Refilling the wine.
“When you throw a party,” Jesus says, “let me tell you how it’s done.”
Pine Tree Dr.