Monday, August 26, 2013

Earthly Advice or Heavenly Imperative?

Can we tell a difference between Jesus’ earthly advice and his heavenly advice? This Sunday’s gospel lesson (Luke 14:1, 7-14) takes place at a dinner party hosted by a leader of the Pharisees. Everyone, Luke tells us was watching Jesus closely, but Jesus was watching them, too. And, when everyone had taken his seat at the table, Jesus told them a parable.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet…” Luke calls it a parable, but it doesn’t really sound like one to me. It sounds more like plain old criticism. That Jesus says, “at a wedding banquet,” barely masks the fact that he’s talking to them. In fact, unless Luke named this as a “parable,” I wouldn’t have thought of it as such. I’ve always heard these words as good advice, and I’ve kept them as such.

When I go to someone’s house or a large function, I try carefully to discern where the head of the table or room will be so that I can sit myself as far from it as possible. Why? Because Jesus told me to. I don’t actually expect anyone to come up to me and say, “Friend, move up higher!” But, had I taken a seat above my station, I would expect them to say silently to themselves, “Look at him, sitting up in front.” Why? Because that’s what I say when other people choose a seat next to the host.

But my engagement with this text is stuck in the literal, earthly sphere. And I think it’s supposed to be a parable. I think Jesus is trying to get the dinner guests to think not only of that night’s meal or of future wedding banquets but of the heavenly banquet. And, as long as I’m reading and interpreting this text as “Ann Landers’ practical advice on how to impress other guests at a party,” I’m not reading the gospel.

Jesus is talking about the heavenly banquet. No, I don’t think there are class distinctions in heaven. No, I don’t think one person’s reward is greater than another’s. But I do think that making our banquet table look like God’s banquet table involves humility and radical inclusion. No, God isn’t going to come to you and say, “You’re sitting too close to the front; move down.” Nor is he going to say, “Friend, I have a better place for you up here!” But, if I’m going to live into the kingdom and recognize how heaven works, I’ve got to look at it through the eyes of humility.

Can you see how God is working in the world around you? When you sit down at a dinner party, do you recognize the kingdom? When you walk through the grocery story, do you notice God’s reign breaking through? Seeing it is as simple as having a heart that chooses the lowest seat at the table—not so that someone might surprise you with a better invitation but so that in so doing you might see that you’re already sitting at the kingdom table. 

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