Dinner Party Etiquette (Luke 14)

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“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”          (Luke 14:12-14)

It’s a question of respect. Who do you respect the most? If you had two visitors at your church, one in rags, smelly and (quite literally) “cap in hand”, and the other, glossy and smiling and carrying a big Bible, it would be difficult not to make assumptions based on your own preconceived ideas, wouldn’t it?

James makes that exact point. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’  have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

The story that Jesus told takes the question of respect to another level. With a characteristic turn-about, Jesus called His followers to respect the unrespectable.

Even in terms of simple hospitality, this is a tough act to perform. Jesus heightens the sense of paradox: “You will be blessed because they cannot repay you.” Immediately the act of giving has been moved out of the sphere of doing something that can be seen (and approved of socially), into the realm of something weird and extraordinary.

I read of a couple who wanted to do something meaningful with their wedding reception and so turned it into a massive soup-kitchen event for the local homeless.

You will be blessed because they cannot repay you.” This isn’t ultimately a matter of charity or of being nice in a slightly condescending way “to those less fortunate than ourselves” (as in the ponderous old prayer), but a simple recognition that YOU have been welcomed to God’s feast, unworthy as you are, and you cannot possibly repay the Lord for the privilege of His gracious invitation. In this context, it is you that is unrespectable!

And yet He welcomes you.

And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” Live that way towards everybody around you. Live towards people the way that God lives towards you.

I read this recently:

“Generosity demands a measure of self-sacrifice.  It doesn’t impoverish, but rather enriches the soul of the giver.  True generosity springs from a heart full of mercy and compassion. God loved us first, and our love is a response of gratitude to his great mercy and kindness towards us. We cannot outgive God in his generosity towards us. Do you give freely as Jesus gives without expectation for personal gain or reward?”

Help me, Lord, so to live, not squinty-eyed with distrust, but generous and hospitable, the way you are, to me.

“If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody. And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to those who are the “un” and “non”, they work against Jesus’ teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody. We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God. Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, “God shows no favoritism.”

So we don’t either.”

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