Luke 14 tells a wonderful story about the “table habits” of Jesus and the conversations that took place around the table. It was around the table that the first breaking of the bread and the common cup were shared among the disciples in the upper room on the night that Jesus was betrayed. It was at a campfire on the shore of the Sea of Galilee that the disciples had one of their last conversations with the resurrected Jesus. It was around a meal that the promise of the Holy Spirit was given.
All kinds of things seemed to take place while reclining at the table. Jesus did not limit his mealtimes to only those he knew and loved best. In fact, part of the scandal of Jesus according to the religious establishment was Jesus’ reputation of being “a wine bibber” and eating with sinners. Imagine that – Jesus had a bad reputation! His biggest problem was that he just never could draw the lines tight enough to suit the religiously uptight.
Jesus ate with anyone who wanted him, it seems, but pointedly he ate with social outcasts of one kind or another, and he refused to avoid them because of the messiness that would create. He ate with people in despised trades: tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, extortionists, murderers and idolaters. He ate with folks who failed to keep the Law according to the standards of the religious authorities, and he ate with Gentiles and Samaritans.
Jesus’ critics held an iron fist on how faith was to be practiced, and his popularity to the masses was a threat to the religious powerbrokers.
Why the table? Why would the table come to represent the deepest message of the Kingdom of God and the reign of God? What could be more common among us? Most remember happy times centered upon good food, good companions and joy.
While the holiness laws meant exclusion and separation, the table in Jesus’ way of thinking represented inclusion and togetherness. It’s an altogether fitting image for us to consider in this passage. The Sabbath laws described and formed a sacred time and a sacred place, but they ignored the sacredness of humans.
Our story is an example of Jesus leaning against the idolatry of religious habits. Jesus asked the obvious, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath or not?” (Luke 14:3). With no answer from his critical audience, Jesus healed a man. He nailed their silence to the wall with this observation about the Sabbath: “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” (Luke 14:5). The gospel tells us they had no words to say about this.
The passage mentions four groups: the lame, the blind, the maimed and the poor. Recognize them from somewhere else? They are the same ones Jesus described in his coming-out as Messiah when he first declared his ministry in Luke 4. That calling had encoded itself deeply into his heart. Those people were the very ones he described when he read from the scroll that first day in the synagogue in Jerusalem. Funny that they would show up again here.
What is Jesus saying? The banquet table of God is open to everyone. Include everybody. Leave no one out. The church has always struggled with that because we are human beings. All races, genders, economic levels, ages, sexual orientations – whatever your circle of exclusion, God says they are all at the center of God’s love in equal measure. No one is left out. No one is without God’s love and acceptance. We are God’s creation and we are loved. Each and every one of us.
And don’t just think that these people are to be the focus of mission work. No. It is a call to invite them to dinner! We are to invite them all into the house of God where the big banquet is being given. Let everyone have equal access to the work of the Kingdom. There is a place for everyone. This is the New Testament’s understanding of hospitality. In fact, the word, “hospitality” literally means “love of a stranger.”
To love others as God loves them demands our utter humility. We must relinquish the death grip we have on God’s announcement in all creation. We must join God in announcing this good news to all we can. This place must open its doors fully and completely.
God is throwing a wonderful party, and the one who came to be known as a party animal is reaching out in some of the most unusual of places to try and invite folks in. God needs our help to extend the invitation. God has no interest in building a country club filled with self-righteous hypocrites who only look good on the outside.
God wants us to move out into the most desolate of places, extending the invitation to all who are needy and lonely, to all who are filled with pain and have no place to turn, to all who are thirsty or hungry.
After serving as bridge pastor at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Missouri, during the past year, Herron moved recently to Lawrence, Kansas, where he will continue to minister in interim settings. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).