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Monday, November 22, 2010

Eating with the Lowly and the Resurrection

In Luke 14:1-24 Jesus attends a dinner at a Pharisee leader's house (convened for the purpose of entrapment) and proceeds to insult everybody else there.  His overarching theme is that God esteems the lowly and so should we, and in fact God esteems those who do.  Included is a "parable" that Jesus tells as he sees guests jostling for the seats of honor at the table (which in fact is a fairly close restatement of Prov. 25:6-7):
When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, because a person more distinguished than you may have been invited by your host.  So the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, "Give this man your place."  Then, ashamed, you will begin to move to the least important place.  But when you are invited, go and take the least important place, so that when your host approaches he will say to you, "Friend, move up here to a better place."  Then you will be honored in the presence of all who share the meal with you.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted [Luke 14:8-11].
It occurred to me that all of us Christians are invited to the wedding feast of Christ and his bride, the Church, and the one who invites us is God the Father.  And though it is an unfathomable grace just to have a seat at that table, there will be places of honor there too.  It seems that those seats are reserved for those Christians who are bent on associating with the least in the kingdom of heaven—uncool, unpopular, unremarkable, poor, handicapped, dull, easily ignored believers—in this life, those who choose to sit at the losers' table instead of fighting for a seat at the jocks' table in the Church.  Indeed, in a remarkable display of impolite ingratitude, Jesus goes on to advise his host at the dinner that he invited entirely the wrong people:
When you host a dinner or a banquet, don't invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so you can be invited by them in return and get repaid.  But when you host an elaborate meal, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  Then you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous [vv. 12-14].
As Jesus points out elsewhere in Luke's Gospel, the repayment for such kindness will come at the resurrection because those who are unimportant now will be very important then and will actually be in a position to "welcome [us] into the eternal homes" or not (see also the parable of the sheep and the goats).

I admit that I haven't obeyed Jesus' counsel very thoroughly.  I haven't gotten into the habit of inviting people who aren't my friends and relations over to my house for a good meal as I should.  But there is another setting where it has been a privilege to put this into practice.  It's when I celebrate the Lord's Supper, especially in nursing homes and the homes of "shut-in" believers in our body.  There I'm honored to celebrate the most important meal with the humblest brothers and sisters of Christ, often people whose shoes I am not worthy to untie.  Maybe there is someone you know who is elderly or handicapped that you can spend some time with or share a sandwich or the bread and the cup with.  If we make a habit of such things, it will be natural for us to hear on the Last Day, "Friend, move up higher."

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