Thursday, August 25, 2016

Social Obligation


Perhaps it's a shame I'm not preaching this week since I have so much to say about the gospel lesson. (Don't ask the congregation what they think about that.) Here's a bonus post about the anti-gospel according to Big Bang Theory and Luke 14:1, 7-14.

First, if you're not familiar with Sheldon Cooper's philosophy of gift giving, watch this 35-second clip:


I don't watch much BBT anymore, but there was a 6-month stretch where it seemed like it was on in our house every night. (Perhaps that was when my wife was pregnant with our fourth child, and I was smart enough not to change the channel.) Although it's a minor point that only surfaces occasionally, there's a running theme through the series about giving gifts and the social obligation that the practice imposes upon the recipient of a gift. As Sheldon says in the clip above, "The foundation of gift giving is reciprocity. You haven't given me a gift; you've given me an obligation." One of the reasons the show is so successful it that little jabs like that strike home.

Doesn't it feel like we have to repay a gift with a gift? Although not necessarily expected by the giver, don't we manufacture within ourselves a sense of obligation to return the favor? If you have me over to your house for dinner, don't I feel like I need to have you over to mine? Isn't that all wrong? Doesn't the joy of a party or a gift or a favor diminish with inverse proportionality to the increasing expectation of remuneration? But no matter how gracious the giver is--no matter how clearly the gift is given with no strings attached--we feel the need to reciprocate.

Jesus says to the host of the dinner party, "Since no one can completely sever the ties of social obligation, quit inviting people who have the capacity to pay you back. If you want to model the kingdom, only invite people who could never even begin to repay your kindness."

Isn't that the heart of the gospel? The kingdom of God is like a banquet to which the dregs of society are invited--those who have no hope of repaying the host. The invitation is offered with no strings attached. The people are urged simply to come and celebrate. The end. Isn't that what the gospel is all about?

This Sunday, consider the rather unparabolic "parable" of the dinner host as a teaching not for earthly gatherings but as an image of the heavenly one. As if to make this point clear, the next words out of Jesus mouth are a genuine parable about a wedding banquet attended only by society's outcasts. Although there are present-day implications for this exchange, Jesus' words have more to do with God's kingdom than they do with Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, change the way you entertain guests so that everyone can be invited, but don't lose sight of the no-strings-attached teaching about the kingdom of God.

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