Reading: Luke 14.12-14
Jesus said to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
I wonder if you can remember when you last gave or attended a dinner party? For many months now inviting people to share in a meal in our homes has been, at best, inadvisable and, at worst, illegal. Alongside restrictions on our extending hospitality to family, friends and neighbours, there has also been the confusions and difficulties surrounding how we might safely buy food. For those deemed to be the most vulnerable to the potentially lethal effects of Covid 19 there has been a need to develop a reliance on home deliver and neighbourly goodwill. For others it has often felt like Darwin was right: only the fittest will survive! In March decisions were made that should give us pause for thought as we consider the message of today’s reading.
In the ‘good old days’ of dinner parties, wedding receptions and other festive gatherings we used to spend so much time planning guest lists, seating plans and menus. Today, Jesus is asking us to pause and ask ourselves: ‘Why?’ Of course, we can easily construct the argument about valuing and caring for those we invite to dine with us; we can so easily convince ourselves that our motivations are driven by love and respect. However, Jesus asks us to consider whether our argument of justification are, in fact, true.
So often, when we host dinner parties, we do so because we are in a circle of people who take it in turns to entertain each other. Our hospitality is, in reality, an ever-tightening band of self-interest. We, and those we see as being like us, close ranks around the dining table and, like the Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll’s famous story, declare there to be ‘No room’ for anyone else. It is this attitude that Jesus is challenging today. Jesus is asking: ‘What about the others?’
During our months of national crisis we have developed a greater awareness of the needs of those more vulnerable than ourselves. But … is that awareness, and willingness to help, wearing off? Have we developed a different type of ‘dinner party circuit’? Have we created a small and ever-tightening circle of people we are prepared to care for, whilst the ‘outsiders’ remain firmly outside!?
Today, Jesus is challenging us to set aside our need for congratulation and gratification. Jesus is asking us, instead, to lay more places at our tables (both real and figurative) and share his love with all.