Not only does this Jesus walk on water, heal people of leprosy and other diseases, give good homilies and hang out with the losers: he also sometimes finds himself invited into the homes of the movers and shakers. He finds himself invited into the house of a wealthy Pharisee, surrounded by the man’s family and closest, name-dropping, pretentious friends, where they watch Jesus very closely. It’s not that they’re looking for some pearl of wisdom from him, something that will change their lives. They watch because they are afraid that he will rock their world and bring everything thing they stand for to an end.
The party might be a trap of some kind, a sort of set up. This is the same crowd, after all, who only recently tried to discredit him and have him arrested. They think that if they give Jesus enough rope, he’ll surely hang himself, and his presence alone causes a stir. Happy hour has suddenly sobered up and become a healing service, and some of the guests are not amused.
He enters the dining room that has a table that practically fills the space. At one end, the far end, is where the important people and the host sit, and at the other end is where the people that don’t matter get to sit. Jesus makes the obvious observation that the room is out of balance, that there is no one down at his end of the table: all the action is at the other end, where the guests are trying to elbow their way to more prominent seating, down near the host.
Remember, there are no chairs and the tables are basically without legs. To eat at table, one had to lie on one’s side and eat with one hand or the other. The idea of a large group of grown men trying to wiggle their way closer to the host must have been an amusing sight to behold!
In ancient times, whoever ate closest to a prominent person shared in that person’s status, sort of like if I were to eat dinner next to Lady Gaga, I would tell all my students, I would post it (and repost it!!) several times on FaceBook, and my status would be enhanced in some circles. It’s about getting some borrowed coolness!
So here’s Jesus, at the far end of the table, the very uncool far end, observing the goings one, and suddenly he speaks: “You guys don’t get it, do you? Start out humbly, in the loser section of the room—like you really aren’t cool enough to be here, and then maybe the host will notice you and say, “Dude! What are you doing down here? I’ve been waiting for you, come sit by me!” Jesus probably laughs at that point, and finishes by saying those now famous words, “All who pretend to be something they’re not, will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be lifted up!”
This is another saying that shows us how great the Kingdom of God really is! The words are the reverse of what we think, and they turn everything over: the way to the top is down; to get to the front, go to the back. To be great, get over yourself. This is the maddeningly ironic and frustrating reality of the Reign of God, and Jesus assures us, it’s the only way God is allowing it to work.
If you’ve watched any “spiritual” programs on TV or looked at the best selling books in spirituality lately, you know why Jesus’ words are relevant even now. There are a ton of books that teach us that we have a “right” to be comfortable in a material sense, that if we think positive thoughts and focus on material success, God is obligated to give us whatever we want. There are, of course, some valid observations in this line of thinking because God wants only the best for each of us. But reality is not what proponents of “The Secret” want us to believe, and we as North Americans have absolutely no right to personal riches at the expense of others with whom we share this planet.
Jesus is not giving us a foolproof way to power and riches. In God’s kingdom there is no room for coveting honors and material gain, whether we’re seated at the head of the table, or only dealing under the table. It’s about knowing who is really hosting the party. Of all the attendees that evening, Jesus is the one most worthy of being heard. He knows what life at the head table is like and what life at the back of the line is like.
In a world where the domination system is everywhere evident, where humans broker kingdoms and spirituality alike as if they were gods, a lone voice of protest is heard. It is the voice of a man born in a cave, the son of refugees in a foreign land; it is the voice of someone raised on the margins of society, someone who neither read nor wrote, who often went to bed hungry, wondering where the next meal was coming from. Now that he is a grown man, he begins conversing with those seated around his table: a Samaritan woman, a leper or two, a demoniac, whole groups of losers and outcasts who were rejected and despised by the religious authorities. These are the ones who knew the names Caesar and Herod all too well—not because they ever dined at their tables, but because they bore the physical and economic burdens these men imposed. To these people, men and women alike, Jesus had the guts to bring Good News from God, telling them that their time of vindication had come. According to our Scriptures and the teachings in our creeds, we acknowledge that Jesus himself finally died a loser himself, an outcast, a party-crasher. Dead and buried, as we say.
But the Good News is that Jesus has rejoined the great party God is giving for us right now, and as he makes his way back to the head table, something is seriously different. Walking with him and taking seats next to him are all those with whom he’s sat at table along the way: those who have shared in conversation with him–the outcasts, kings, peasants, the aged and young, the ones who feel inferior and fearful, the courageous and victorious, lepers, scientists, the feeble, and unloved, the ones rejected by institutional religion right down to the present time.
This is why we invite everyone to share in communion at Holy Redeemer. We have decided to pull down the barriers of the centuries and we declare that all are worthy of God’s love. We believe that Jesus Christ is both the Host of this party and is also himself the Food. In his name we acknowledge our need of healing and wholeness even as we declare our dependence on God to make us worthy.
So we gather again as we do every week. We invite everyone to this party, just as we ourselves have been invited to sit with each other and with the Host of this party at the head table. There is not a person here no matter what we’ve done or said that will keep us from sitting at Table with God. No one is pushed to the back of the bus at this church. We come humbly, confidently praising our God, gathering around the table of the Lord, acknowledging to the last that Jesus is truly the Life of this party.