Last week we talked about the story from Luke 14 wherein Jesus encountered people vying for favored places at a banquet table and showed them a better way. Here is the story again, in case you’ve forgotten.
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 He said also 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 neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Before we leave the tale, we should look at the broader, cosmic implications it carries. The Bible is multi-layered like that. It can have particular meanings in the here and now, while still bridging across years into eternity.
This story echoes well beyond a particular banquet table. Jesus’ words alter our conception of community itself, and with it, our purpose for being together. Jesus doesn’t just offer advice here, but two changes in direction.
The first change happens in paragraph one, where inward becomes outward. Initially the guests at the table are choosing their own places, trying to take honor. They’re like Hungry, Hungry Hippos, scooping up all the honor marbles before they disappear. Jesus makes clear that honor is not taken, but given, at the invitation of the host. The flow of honor inverts 180 degrees. It’s a reminder that what we give in life is more important than what we grasp at. This is true of individuals, but also of communities. We gather to give honor, to share goodness. The community’s arrow does not point inward to itself, but outward to the world.
The second change happens in paragraph two, where Jesus suggests that invitations and honor be extended to people who usually get excluded from the process.
In the normal course of things, the circle of honor is closed. Only certain people get invited, those who can extend invitations in return. One gives honor expecting to get honor back. The group is shifting a finite supply of honor back and forth, creating nothing new.
Jesus breaks open that closed circle by suggesting that new people be invited, especially if they’ve been shut out of the game. The existing community does not lose honor in the process. They still have everything they came with! Now new people are honored, which creates more honor, spreading farther than before. In this way, a new thing is grown and more honor gets shared.
Churches often view their membership as a closed circle. Their purpose becomes tending to themselves. Jesus’ words break open that circle for us, giving the community a purpose beyond itself. Faith communities do not exist to pass the same faith around among the same people. Jesus un-bends our circle, pushing the outward flow towards people beyond the existing group. Everyone who is touched or blessed by that outward flow becomes part of the process, every bit as much as the diehard members in the circle are.
Life is about giving, not taking. It’s about pushing gifts beyond a closed circle out into the world. These lessons define us now and always. They were true of honor in the story, but they can be applied to love, financial gifts, compassion, friendship, leadership, or any hallmark of faith equally well.
How does your church give beyond itself? How does your life of faith push you beyond comfortable circles to share honor, dignity, and love with people who aren’t you? Questions to ponder this week.