In Luke 14, Jesus tells a parable often titled the Great Banquet. A wealthy land owner was giving a great banquet, but when the time came for the banquet to be served, the wealthy guests made excuses of why they couldn’t come. The master of the house becomes angry and sends his servant into the streets, and even the outskirts of town to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. It is the broken who eat at the table while the privileged are excluded.
As I meditate on this parable, I really want it to be about food, and dinner parties, and who makes it into heaven someday.
Three stories however challenge my thoughts.
Richard Hughes recently spoke at a Preaching Seminar I attended, and his remarks shook me to my core. His title for his presentation was “Preaching In America And The Persistent Reality Of White Supremacy.” The Seminar was focused on preaching in the midst of racism in America today, so the title didn’t surprise me. And, I have for a few years been trying to wrestle with the inherent advantages I’ve had in life because of my own skin color, and what that means for trying to heal racism in both myself and with those to whom I minister. Still, the presentation caused me to struggle on deeper levels. Hughes was presenting a chapter for a revised edition of his work Myths Americans Live By in which he critiques some of the claims we Americas make, such as we are a Chosen nation, in light of our actual history which includes: slavery, the Trail of Tears, internment camps for Asian-Americans during WWII, and many other struggles. However, his talk at the Preaching Seminar went beyond the book to speak to the struggle of racism and the inherent myth of white supremacy and white privilege. He confessed that during the years he grew up because of the color of his skin he had distinct advantages over others of a different skin color. He could go to any college he wanted, eat at any restaurant, and did not fear the police or authorities. He then detailed how many of these privileges still live on today. You’ll have to read his book (2nd edition to be published soon) to determine if you agree with his argument or not, this is not the place. For me, Hughes’s presentation renewed a struggle in me to recognize my own privilege, and what that means for me as a minister and a Christian. He ended with a simple challenge, how do we, preachers in this room who have been tasked with sharing a word from the Lord each week to our congregations, learn to preach truth during these troubling times?
I really wish this parable was about food, dinner parties, and who makes it into heaven.
I was recently reading a journal article about this parable in preparation for a sermon. I often read journal articles before sermons, and have lately been challenge to read authors who are different from me (race, gender, culture, economic class) in an effort to hear the text from a different perspective. This particular article was by Warren Stewart, whom I don’t know, but has the same credentials I have (as far as education and occupation), so I was compelled to listen. He began the article by declaring that one day he’s planning to ask God a few questions, one of which will be, why did people of lighter skin color almost always seem to be the ones in power over nearly everyone else who was of darker hue? Right from the beginning of the article, before ever addressing the parable, he drops a bomb into the conversation that shades the rest of the conversation on the parable. Rightly or wrongly, this becomes the framework for interpreting the parable. Apart from whether his beginning statement is a fair assessment of the world or not (that can be debated at a different time), what struck me most is that this is how someone who is seeking the heart of God views the culture around him.
Have I mentioned, I really want this parable to be about food, dinner parties, and who goes to Heaven.
I often drive my children to school in the morning, and we often are listening to Christian radio in the car. My son, who is the youngest of my children, has recently started stopping all conversations we are having when the song Come To The Table by Sidewalk Prophets comes on the radio. He will stop the conversation to say, I really like this song. He will then sing the song with the radio. He likes the song so much he recognizes it from the first few notes. If you don’t know the song you should listen to it, but the chorus says this.
Come to the table. Come join the sinners who have been redeemed. Take your place beside the Savior. Sit down and be set free. Come to the table.
The idea throughout the song is that God has a table, it’s the Messianic Banquet, and God is preparing a great feast for all of us to enjoy in the New Creation. Yet even now, we can participate in this great banquet as we gather each week to partake of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
All three of these stories are running through my head as I engage this parable from Jesus. Someone shouts out, blessed is everyone who eats bread in the Kingdom of God. Jesus responds by saying don’t invite people just like you, instead invite those who can’t return the favor. Invite the poor, crippled, blind, and lame, and enjoy the feast together. Then Jesus tells a parable about a guy who prepares a banquet, and at first invites people just like himself. But none of them come. So he becomes like Jesus and welcomes the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.
As I read the parable, I’m struck with my own privilege and benefits; I am the position of power and privilege in the story. If I truly desire to be apart of the kingdom that welcomes everyone then it’s up to me to make the table of place of welcome for the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. It’s up to me to make space, to show hospitality, and become uncomfortable so that others can be comfortable. It’s up to me to give up power and privilege so that others can feel welcome.
I read this parable and at first I really want it to be about food, dinner parties, and who goes to Heaven. But then I think, no I don’t. I don’t want the parable about shallow things because I want to be apart of a Kingdom that is different from the kingdoms of the world. I want a place where we can all sit down together.
There is a different reality available. It’s found at the Table of God.