It begins in grade school, carries over with increased importance in junior high school, and then it became vital in high school. Even as an adult it is still of social significance. Who you eat with tell a lot about your character, reputation, and your status in the community. Preachers like to focus on the fact that Jesus dined frequently with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Those individual who would be classifies as the outcast of society. The marginalized and forgotten to be included in a meal of honor with Jesus was not an insignificant occurrence. It teaches us inclusion as well as gives us a peek inside the heart of Jesus as well. What some ministers glance over is the fact that Jesus also dined with the Pharisees. Jesus is invited not because he is considered an equal but because he is a curiosity who has been in the news. The esteemed guests are watching closely to see how Jesus fits in. Then Jesus decides to offend the guests. This scene becomes a lesson in how to lose friends and alienate people. Jesus has noticed how the Pharisees look for ways to move up the social ladder—or up the table, on this occasion. He has seen how they try to sit at the places of honor.
We have been in those awkward situations when we are a guest in someone’s home, standing before the dinner table, not sure where to sit. Most would not take a place at the end of the table, the seat of honor, unless, of course, the host invites us to do so. This kind of common sense would seem to be what Jesus is suggesting, but it is more than that. Jesus criticizes the guests for striving for status. “When someone invites you to dinner, you take the place of honor. Then when somebody more important than you shows up, you’re red-faced as you make your way to the last table and the only place left. You might as well go and sit at the last place in the first place. Then the host might say, ‘Come, sit with me.’ If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. Be content to be yourself.”
We still live in a classed society. Ethnic groups, immigrants, the poor, the homeless, the addicted, and the mentally ill face uphill battles. Lower class, middle class, upper class—we know the class in which we reside. When Jesus finishes insulting the guests, he begins to insult the host for who was included and who did not make the list: “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends, family, and those you’re trying to impress, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite people who don’t have similar interests, who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks, the least of our sisters and brothers, the poorest of the poor. They won’t be able to return the favor, but God will know.” The disciples want to pull Jesus to the side and say, “You might want to back off a little. First you went after the seating protocol, and as if that wasn’t rude enough, now you’ve gone after the guest list. Our host is an influential person. He could do good things for us. All you have to do is act friendly and keep your elbows off the table. We won’t have any more dinner invitations if you can’t get through the appetizers without infuriating the person who invited us.”
Why does Jesus have to stir up trouble? Why does he criticize people who invite him into their homes? Why can’t Jesus leave a pleasant enough dinner party well enough alone? It is because Jesus understands what is at stake. We have to learn that at God’s table there is no need to jockey for position, because all are equally welcome. There are no throwaways when it comes to human beings. Christians are to honor the least among us—the poor and marginalized. While the Pharisees were striving to move toward the head of a rectangular table, Jesus’ table is a round one where no person is better than another. The character of our guest list—who is on it and who is not—has everything to do with whether or not we are being Christ’s church. The followers of Christ have to learn that any table where Jesus is present is a table where everyone is welcome, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, a foreshadowing of the kingdom where God cares for all and all we can do is give thanks.
Hope to see you in service & worship too