Thursday, August 25, 2016
Watching but Blind
What an ominous start to Sunday's gospel lesson (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." The "they" seems to be "the lawyers and the Pharisees" of Luke 14:3. That they were watching him closely changes the dynamic of this dinner party. Like a man who tells his daughter's date, "I'll be going to the same move, and I'll be watching you closely," this is Luke's way of telling us that every act and word of Jesus was under scrutiny. In the lectionary, we skip over the healing of the man with dropsy--the second sabbath healing in a row--but that attitude of close watching is still behind these two table teachings of Jesus.
They were watching him closely, and he responded by pointing out the failures that they themselves could not see. "When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable." The implicit accusation is that they were so worried about Jesus' abrogation of the sabbath restrictions that they failed to see how their seating preferences conflicted with the principles of the kingdom. Before the supper was over, Jesus said to his Pharisee host, "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." The Pharisees and lawyers who were at the dinner were the sort of company who would be expected to return the favor, and Jesus was shifting his host's focus away from earthly issues to heavenly ones. It's as if Jesus were saying to them, "Your obsession with earthly transgressions has distracted you from what's really important."
What about today's church? Surely those of us who take our seats in rector's offices, vestry meetings, diocesan conventions, meetings of Executive Council, and General Convention are more like the lawyers and Pharisees of Jesus' day than the poor, crippled, lame, and blind guests he urges us to invite to our table. Where is our focus? We're pretty good at talking about inclusion and radical hospitality, but is that our focus? How much of our time do we spend talking about, planning for, and legislating the preservation of the institutional church, and how much of it do we spend making sure our churches are full of society's outcasts? Do we care more about buildings and burses or buskers and broken hearts? Do we care more about who is allowed to be married in the church or who needs the saving love of Jesus Christ? We've spent a great deal of time and effort and money legislating our way toward a more inclusive church, and I've been a part of that. This gospel lesson reminds me that there's a danger in confusing earthly and heavenly concerns. Like the Pharisees and lawyers, we think that having the right rules here on earth is what gest us closer to heaven, when, in fact, it's suspending the rules that makes our fellowship look more like kingdom fellowship.