Thursday, November 04, 2021

Guest who?


On one occasion, Jesus attended a dinner party at the home of a prominent Pharisee.

Pharisees were men of standing and influence in their society, and while they were a religious reform group they might correlate more closely with local politicians—in the broadest sense—in my own culture, those seeking to shape society according to particular values.

Their engagement with Jesus was mixed: some seem to have enjoyed the kudos of having him as a dinner guest; some seem to have relished the opportunity to defeat him in debate; some seem to be genuinely interested in hearing what he had to say. But Jesus was often invited to eat in the homes of Pharisees, and accepted their invitations, and one gets the impression that those present were as much weighing one another up as assessing Jesus.

Anyway, on one occasion Jesus attended a dinner party at the home of a prominent Pharisee. And over the meal, Jesus, observing the power-play between the other guests, told his host that if he wanted his table to be like God’s table, he should invite not those who could repay the favour, but those who could not: the poor, the disabled, the marginalised.

And on hearing this, one of the dinner party set replied, anyone is blessed to be invited to God’s table. You say Disabled Lives Matter, Jesus, but actually All Lives Matter. You say Poor Lives Matter, but I respond, All Lives Matter. Your slogan sounds sound, but it is divisive. Why can’t we just all get along? After all, there was a disabled man at this very dinner party, before you had to go and heal him—on the Sabbath. So that undermines your case, and proves my point!

In response, Jesus told a story. Of a man who threw a party and invited influential guests. But one after another, each guest weighed up the benefit to themselves of being seen at that social event, and then sent their apologies. I have a prior engagement. And so the man, who believed himself to be an A-list celebrity, found himself deeply embarrassed. In his anger, he sends out invitations to the common people, those who might appreciate one day of the celebrity life.

In what way does this tell us what the kingdom of heaven is like? Is God a vain celeb? Or a contrast to that game? God does not invite us to his table to maintain influence, or to impress us with something we can never dream of having for ourselves. Rather, God disrupts everything—our hierarchies, our power plays, our celebrations, our sense of self, our ordering of society. And in that place of disruption, something wholly other breaks in.

God is revealed, fully, in the person of Jesus. And the person of Jesus, in this story event, reveals God to be the guest, not the host.

Perhaps Jesus’ host had already began to appreciate the limits of his influence, in the influence game. Perhaps the fellow guest who sought to put Jesus in his place was yet to get there.

How will we treat this guest in our midst?


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