In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus is dining in the home of a prominent Pharisee. All the other guests are pretty curious about Jesus. They’ve heard he has a reputation for eating with prostitutes and tax collectors. Even before they sat down to eat, Jesus healed a man with dropsy, in spite of it being the Sabbath.Jesus was captivating, compelling, and yet, he routinely ignored social norms. No one really knew what to make of him.
While most of the guests were vying for seats near the host, Jesus hung back and watched. He then began to address his fellow guests with a parable. When you attend a reception, it’s wise to take the least prominent seat in the room. The seat that is furthest from the host and other guests. If you take the prominent seat, you risk embarrassing yourself and your host, should they need to ask you to move for a more honored guest. Whereas if you take the lowliest seat, your host may honor you by asking you to come and sit with them.
Jesus’ parable about humility is poignant and timeless. Sometimes we become so captivated by a compelling person, suddenly in our midst, that we forget ourselves. Have you ever hung back at a dinner party only to notice a crowd gathered around a prominent person, seemingly hanging on the individual’s every word? We get caught up in the prestige or power the person represents. Some small part of ourselves wants to be glorified, and in that instant we lose sight of building genuine relationships. Instead it becomes about what we stand to gain.
Jesus is suggesting we do something counterintuitive. It’s a matter of asking ourselves when we arrive in those social situations--what would be best for my host? By putting their needs before our desires, we are both practicing humility and loving our host.
Jesus goes a step further by offering his host some feedback. When you invite people to dinner, don’t invite your friends, family, or prominent guests, as they might return your hospitality. Instead, embrace those guests who can never repay you. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. In doing so, the host will be blessed by building genuine relationships with those they might never have gotten to know otherwise.
Jesus provided his host, and fellow guests, with a good deal of uncomfortable things to consider. What if we welcome this lesson as an opportunity to explore our own discomfort?
Do you remember November 2016? In the two weeks between Election Day and Thanksgiving Day, I heard the same angst repeated on public radio, in editorials, in the news, and overwhelmingly on social media. How were we to break bread with our family on Thanksgiving Day? The perception, whether it be real or perceived, was that our nation was more divided than ever over the recent election of now President Trump. How would Trump supporters and Clinton supporters ever find anything to talk about, besides the cranberry sauce? For many people, sharing this one meal felt insurmountable and painful. People came up with excuses to change their Thanksgiving plans, so they didn’t have to sit through an uncomfortable meal with their family.
Yet the true damage of that season, was not our anxiety about how to deal with uncomfortable dinner conversation with the family we vehemently disagree with. Rather, it was inviting the darkness in our world to takeover our meal, to drive us away from genuine relationships and the light and blessing that is born there. Because our God is a God of abundant love, and our God values being in genuine relationships above all else. Even with those who we believe voted for the wrong person, whoever that may be for you. This division has pervaded our culture in the years since, and if we buy into it, darkness will continue to grow and further fracture our relationships.
Or, we can choose to sit with the uncomfortable truth that Christ offers us in today’s lesson. We can spend some time reflecting.
If you were to host a meal and invite guests beyond your comfort zone, who would you invite?
Jesus is calling us to turn away from fulfilling our own desires, from spending all our time with people who might improve our social standing or who might repay us. Instead, we are being called to turn our attention towards the needs of creation and our neighbors. The first step we have to take is practicing some humility. We all have gotten caught up with a prominent guest, hanging on there every word. We have all done some networking, hoping the favor might be returned. It’s human, it may even be part of what has made our species evolve so successfully. And, it also works against the dream God has for us.
God calls us to be in genuine relationship with one another and creation. This includes spending time with people we would rather not hang out with, and taking care of our earth by doing things we’d rather not be inconvenienced by, like composting and limiting the meat we eat. The thing we least want to do, the person we least want to break bread with--that is probably where God is calling us to go.
I wonder, what if instead of just imagining such a meal with those who make us uncomfortable, we actually each hosted one? What blessing might come from building genuine relationships?
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