A Lesson in Table Manners
Mary would have been proud. Like most mothers do, I am sure that at some point, Jesus’ mother set him down at a table…probably one made by Joseph…and proceeded to teach him all about table manners. I can remember the day when my mother did the very same thing. There were lessons in the correct way to set the table…and which fork went where…and the proper way to fold one’s napkin before and after a meal…all things that didn’t come as natural to me as they did for my sister which would probably explain why I had to repeat the lessons…over and over again.
Not so with Jesus. Apparently, whatever Jesus learned about manners, he took to heart. So much so that whenever he found himself being invited to a dinner, even to the house of a distinguished leader of the Pharisees, he didn’t have to think twice. To his credit, Jesus already knew that “whom one chose to dine with” spoke volumes to those who were watching.
Little did they know that on this particular Sabbath, as recorded by the Gospel writer Luke, it was Jesus…who was watching them. As he reclined at a table...”people watching” as he often liked to do….the behavior of the other guests troubled him. Instead of waiting to be told where to sit according to the preference of the host, certain folks were choosing the places of honor…for themselves.
Whether it was the blatant breach in etiquette that demanded his attention…or the seemingly disinterest of the host, Jesus could not refrain himself from responding. And what came out of his mouth on that particular occasion…was this parable.
It is not by accident that this parable comes at a time when Jesus himself is at a banquet. Jesus is not the only one who knows that people are watching. People noticed where one ate….with whom one ate….whether or not one washed before eating….and, as we hear today, where one sat to eat. It was in this jockeying at a table…that one’s place in the community was determined by one’s social position. In a nutshell, it was a given that those seated in the places of honor were the people to watch.
Jesus, however, would beg to differ…pointing out that just the opposite is true. The people to watch are the ones who seek out the least desirable spot to sit. Those who do not assume they are any better than any other members of the dinner party…nailing it right on the head when he says in verse 11:
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled…
and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
If anything, Jesus is about turning this table upside down…giving us our first real clue…that he is not just talking about table manners.
In turning his attention to his host, the leader of the Pharisees, Jesus confronts him about his choice of guests. No doubt the invitation list included family and friends, neighbors, people like himself who could afford to repay their host in kind. By the same token, there could be no doubt that those who were not on the guest list were those whom Jesus specifically named: the poor….the crippled….the lame….and the blind. To the host, such persons were often considered sinners being punished by God with their ailment. According to Jesus, nothing could be further from the truth.
Our God is an Inviting God…who wants to draw all people to Godself. Whereas in some circles, such folks were discouraged from attending the house of God…it was for these very people that Jesus said he came. What those who were watching Jesus failed to see that day…was a Jesus who felt the need to exalt himself by sitting in a place of honor. What they saw…was Jesus’ attitude of humility. Jesus knew full well that honor comes not from what seat we decide to sit in; honor comes from how “others” decide to regard us.
And speaking of Resurrection….did you know that we have begun labeling ourselves ‘The Inviting Church’. It is a label that granted we have yet to live into…but like most things Lutheran, we are in the process of becoming. I like that. It reminds us that we still live in that tension between the already here…and not quite yet. And in many ways, that is exactly where I suspect God would have us to be.
If we accept that our God is indeed an Inviting God…it would make sense that his church should be just as inviting. So the question remains: how are we doing? Are we motivated to step out of our comfort zones and extend a welcoming hand? Have we taken seriously what Jesus is saying in being very intentional about inviting people whom we may not have even considered? People who may look different from us….whose primary language is not English?
If yesterday’s soon to be New Member’s class is any indication, five families have decided to become members of Resurrection. And what is really exciting is to see all of the babies and children ranging in age from 3 months old all the way up to age 10. The class is multiracial…and multi-denominational, with families coming from the Catholic Church…the Presbyterian Church…the Missouri Synod Church…and even a former Southern Baptist. We even have one person coming all the way from Central America…who I am pleased to say was actually “invited” by one of our members. And once invited…guess what…she came.
Why do they come? For the same reasons that you and I do. WE come to be fed. WE come to be nurtured. WE yearn to be a part of a loving community that will accept us for who WE are… and sit down at the table together. A sign of hospitality….acceptance….recognizing one another as equals….of cementing friendships…..all made possible in breaking bread together.
At the foot of the cross we realize that it is we who are the poor…the crippled…the lame…and the blind. It is only by God’s grace given to us in Baptism…that we are granted a place at the table of our Lord. This time around, it is Jesus who is the host.
And the list of invited guests…well I hear, that it’s out of this world.