Reading: Luke 14: 1, 7-14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 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. 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 honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
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 neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
Luke’s gospel continues with teaching and parables. There continues to be opposition, spoken and unspoken against Jesus for what he does. Invitation and challenge continue. If you are invited to a meal is one scenario; if you are offering a meal is the second. There is a question about status and position. There is a question of why you invite whoever, what you expect to gain.
The culture of the Greek / Roman world was very much one of gifts carrying a price-tag – I might be given something but I would then be beholden to the giver; I might give so that I stored up some points in case I needed something from that person later, or it might be so that I looked better to my peers.
Jesus asks us to invite in those who cannot invite us back, to give to those who won’t be able to give back – he says we will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous – though if we think this is about getting preferential treatment, getting a gold-ticket, a pass to the VIP lounge heaven, then we will be disappointed and our motivation will have been skew in the first place!
The prayer of St Ignatius has the phrase “to give and not to count the cost, to toil and not to seek for any reward, save that of knowing we do your will”. Some of us will know the prayer well. A few weeks ago I suggested that Jesus’ teaching in this section could be summarised with three intertwined calls:- to live simply, to live generously and to live joyfully. It is for each of us to listen to the Spirit, to reflect on Jesus teaching and to work out what this means for us. Some of us are freer to do more, some have more to give, some rightly are focused on supporting key people who need us at this time; some are just struggling to get through the day, maybe not economically but emotionally..
We are called to be hospitable, and of course we can invite our friends – but do we also give to the needy with the same enjoyment? Some give generously and regularly to Urban Outreach; many have given generously to the Ukraine appeal – cheerful giving to those who won’t even know it was us who gave.
Jesus was someone who clearly enjoyed a party and heaven is described in party-language, a banquet, a feast, but one where all will be welcome, especially the poor and the outcast and the excluded; the Eucharist is a foretaste – “for you and for many ..”. The gospel has the most wonderful invitations, but God also calls on us to work for the Kingdom, to do our bit as it were, but the backing tone to Jesus teaching is a joy and a freedom and a release from the norms and the pressures. Our desire is for our church to flourish even when we are gone – our desire is for children in Bolton and elsewhere to grow up with food, not hunger, and if we can make a difference, let’s do so, whatever that is. Our desire is that people are not left lonely and dispirited. Our hope is that people will help us when we need help and encouragement.
Revd Peter Reiss