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12th Sunday after Pentecost - August 28, 2022

Updated: Sep 4, 2022

Good morning!

School started up again! We’re only two weeks into it, so I sincerely hope I’m not the only one still going through the growing pains of adjusting to all the new schedules. Just yesterday I tried to reschedule an appointment from Monday to Wednesday. Turns out I already met this person the Monday prior… My brain is just a bit frazzled. Mornings are still hectic, afternoons are still frustrating, and the evenings are, well let’s just say so far, we’ve survived them all…

One thing that can be particularly hard to schedule in these first few weeks of the fall semester are family dinners. Yet they are so important. It’s during family dinners that we really hear from our kids. How they like their new teacher and the other kids in their class. It’s during dinner time they tell us about all the important things they learned, for example who is friends with who and what is everyone wearing and the latest dance move. Basically, during dinner time we get, what my kids call “the tea” of what’s going on in their lives. The latest events in their lives are discussed, the good the bad and the ugly. If there is some kind of struggle, even between siblings, like that ever happens…, right?, if there is some kind of struggle, dinner time is the perfect time to bring it up. And I’ll tell you why I think so. When people have a meal together, several things happen.

  1. We are now all sitting at one table. That’s a great start! We’re sitting down so no one storms off if they hear something they don’t like and sitting at one table together means we can see each other well and we’re sharing a space. Great start.

  2. We make the time for a blessing of our food and company. On many days, this is the only time that we acknowledge all our blessings and God’s loving presence in our lives. Recalling our relationship with God is a great way to focus on what is important in our relationships as well.

Ok, now my third point seems ridiculously obvious, but hear me out, the third thing that happens when you share a meal with someone is:

  1. You’re chewing. Not only does that mean that your mouth is full and therefore the process of saying something hasty we’d later regret is slowed down considerably, but also, chewing makes you feel less anxious. At the end of the day, we are simple creatures. Chewing signals to our brain that there is enough food and therefore we are safe.

So, to recap: eating together brings everyone to the same table, literally and figuratively. We are sharing space, we are making space for God, and we create a safe space. Sharing a meal really is that beneficial.

It is in part due to my firm belief in the benefits of family dinners, that I love Luke’s gospel. I have nicknamed it the foodie gospel before. Shared meals at the dinner table is one of the most common elements in the gospel of Luke. That shared table progresses the narrative along. The dinner table provides the setting for major teaching moments in the gospel. On at least eight occasions, Jesus can be seen sitting down to meals with others. Indeed, it is so important to Luke, that in his gospel Jesus breaks bread even after his death, twice! In our pericope today, Jesus accepts his third dinner invitation from a pharisee. Plus: today even the parables Jesus tells to teach us, are centered around the dinner table.

So, once again Jesus and his disciples are seated at dinner, all thanks to a high and mighty leader of the pharisees. And as pharisees do so often in Luke’s gospel, this one has an agenda. I too, often have an agenda at mealtime, just ask my kids! The pharisee’s agenda is of course to catch Jesus making a fatal mistake, they want to discredit him, they’re waiting to point a finger at him and say: Gotcha! Therefore, the pharisees watch Jesus very closely, Luke tells us.

As Jesus is known to do, he once more flips the situation upside down. Instead of simply accepting the scrutiny of the pharisees and focusing on giving them no reason to find fault in him, instead of focusing on himself, Jesus watches the pharisees closely. Jesus watches the pharisees. He watches the dinner party and all the guests there, and what he sees is not to his liking. What he sees is people vying for the best seats, people want the seats closest to the VIPs of this party, everyone there is keen to gain the seats with the most prestige and honor. Of course, when there are seats that are better than others, this also means that there are seats that are worse. There are seats that are undesirable. It means that there are fences keeping people from reaching a seat, some people go without a seat entirely.

So, when Jesus tells the parable of the wedding banquet, he is not talking about proper dinner etiquette or societal rules to follow. Jesus is not giving tips, or life hacks, on how to avoid an embarrassing situation, or how to position oneself in the most favorable light. Luke’s gospel is not a guide on how to climb the social ladder. Quite the opposite. In the very first chapter of Luke, before Jesus is even born, Mary’s song the Magnificat beautifully paints a picture of God’s kingdom. This picture, much like Jesus’ actions at the dinner table, flips the status quo upside down. In a world where power rules absolutely, Mary sings about the meek being exalted and the rich being sent away. In Mary’s song, it is not the rich and powerful, but the ones who trust God’s word who receive blessings. Likewise at the table in our reading today Jesus says that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” The pharisees, the dinner guests, and we, live in a world where the status quo is to exalt ourselves. We do it by achieving status symbols. A nice home, car, vacations, education, you know, a good seat at the table. Just one problem: that takes resources. Resources we do not all possess equally. So, we compete for what we perceive to be limited resources, we operate from a paradigm of scarcity. It is this paradigm of scarcity that the guests vying for the best seats at the dinner table demonstrate and embody. It is this paradigm of scarcity that Jesus addresses with his parables. He is not teaching us how to live well by our standards and values. Jesus is not talking about how to live well in Herod’s Israel any more than he is talking about how to live well in our United States. He is talking about life in God’s kingdom. He points out that while our human paradigm is one of scarcity, in God’s economy there is always enough room at the table. God’s paradigm is one of abundance. “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” To exalt ourselves, we need resources. Resources we may or may not have. To humble ourselves, we need faith in God. And faith in God is not a commodity. It cannot be traded, it cannot be bought or sold, no one can monopolize it, faith is accessible and applicable to all of God’s children. In God’s kingdom, all of God’s children have equal access to a seat at the table.

Jesus then advises the pharisees directly on who to invite for their next dinner party. Again, this is not etiquette advise. This is spiritual guidance on how to live well in God’s kingdom. Instead of inviting only the people we know and who can repay us, or even further our own agenda, instead of only inviting them to the table, we are also inviting those on the fringes of society, the poor, we are inviting those not like us to the table as well. Because then, Jesus teaches, you “will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

I like the vision of this table. I often imagine it, a long winding table, decorated according to the season, lively talk, and laughter all around it. Good food, good music. A table where all are invited, all are equal, all are well. This is a beautiful image, a perfect vision, a thoughtful parable of the kingdom of God. With it, Jesus teaches us, that instead of accepting our human paradigm of scarcity, instead of vying for the best seats at the table and keeping others from their seat, we are invited to live according to God’s paradigm of abundance. We are called to live in God’s kingdom. And here, in God’s kingdom, no one builds fences, to keep a neighbor away. Because we are all too busy building a bigger table.

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