Grace, peace and mercy are yours from the Triune God. Amen.
month ago there was an anecdotal story making its way around the internet, on
religion blogs and social media sites, about the new pastor of a mega church
who reportedly dressed up as a homeless man and showed up at his new
congregation the day he was to be introduced.
According to the story, the disguised pastor was shunned by the
congregation and made to sit in the back.
When it came time to introduce the new pastor, everyone was stunned to
find that the unfortunate “homeless” man was actually their new leader, who
recited a passage of scripture that urged Christians to help the unfortunate,
the poor, hungry, needy and so on, among them as Jesus would do. It turns out that this story is the stuff of
internet folklore, neither this pastor nor his mega church actually exist, but
it has been used time and time again as a lesson on hospitality. The moral of the story is that we should
always be welcoming and gracious because the Bible commands us to welcome and
host those who are in need. Which would
be well and good if we were capable of following through on that command all of
the time. We believe that we already know
the moral of the story in today’s Gospel.
We know that we are called to welcome the poor, the crippled, the lame,
and the blind into our communities. We
know that Jesus commands us to be welcoming hosts. We know how hard it is. How uncomfortable it can be. And we have all
heard this preached a time or two before.
thing to think about being the gracious host who extends the hospitality. We are comfortable in this role. Those of us who live in the Midwest have
refined this to an art. When someone brings us a casserole or a Tupperware
filled with cookies, we feel compelled to return the dish with some baked goods
of our own. We keep track of the
weddings to which we have been invited in order to invite those same people to
our children’s weddings a decade later.
We thank one another for thank you cards. We have agreed upon these
mutually unspoken expectations of hospitality. We see ourselves in the role of
the host because then we can CHOOSE to be gracious. Hospitality becomes another
thing that we do in order to be good.
It makes us “nice people.” We get to see ourselves as humble, gracious
hosts. And whether or not we are willing
to say it out loud, we, like the host of the wedding banquet in today’s Gospel
parable, expect that our invitation will be returned…that our kindness will be
reciprocated…that we will get something back for the effort that we put in to
How many of
our social interactions are built upon creating relationships that might be
beneficial for professional networking, or amassing friends so that we might be
well-liked, or even just creating a favorable image for ourselves in the eyes
of others? And doesn’t Jesus drive
right at the heart of this issue when he tells his 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. But when you give a
banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.” He goes on to say, “And you will be blessed,
because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of
the righteous.” When Jesus speaks these
words, he is speaking to us. We view the
hospitable acts we do for others as a way to advance our own social
standing. And if we get to be humble
while doing it, even better!
it mean to be humble? To have
humility? Culturally, we appear to have
defined humility as a something that we do by always putting others first and
by thinking less of ourselves. Humility itself can become destructive and yet
another means by which we convince ourselves we are unworthy. It can become a way that we lose sight of our
identity as beloved children of God. By
being humble, by showing humility, we hope that we will be seen as good
people. We use humility as another way
of earning our place of honor at the table.
We are gambling on the idea that our own actions might redeem us.
instinctively place ourselves in the role of host. We are comfortable there. It is something entirely different to be the
one who is hosted. Think about when you were shown abundant hospitality. Has a friend ever come over to your house in
a blizzard to jumpstart your car? How
about a late night ride from the airport?
Or the friend or family member who spent a day with your children so
that you might have some time off? How
does that feel? I imagine you want to
attempt to pay back that person in some way or another as soon as possible. It
is humbling to receive such overwhelming hospitality. It is even unsettling. We want to feel like
we are deserving of the hospitality that is extended to us. We have been taught since we were children
that “There is no such thing as a free lunch” and we are suspicious that
someone might want something from us.
And in the midst of all of this over-thinking, a simple act of
generosity becomes another way in which we are bound up. Another way in which we calculate what is
right and what is wrong. Another thing we think that we should be doing
the guests at the wedding feast in the parable in today’s Gospel, view our
social exchanges as currency for securing our place at the table. In society.
In the kingdom. If we somehow
talk to the right people, reciprocate these invitations, and do all the
appropriate and nice things, we will be secure.
But what if
humility is not what we think it is?
What if humility is not an action that we do or something that we might
become, but rather, it is a willingness to receive?
What if we
are the ones who are being extravagantly hosted? This feels uncomfortable. We feel vulnerable. As if we are not good
enough. What if instead of seeing
ourselves as the host who is gracious enough to invite these less-than-perfect
people to a banquet, we are actually the poor, the crippled, the lame
and the blind being invited by the most gracious host of all, God?
and sisters, in today’s Gospel text Jesus is not talking about throwing a
festive luncheon. He is talking about
the kingdom of God. He is talking about
throwing wide open the doors of heaven to invite in the tax collectors, and
sinners, and all the broken people. WE
are those people. In today’s Gospel
reading we hear about a God who doesn’t play by the rules of our world. We have a God who came to earth in the person
of Jesus Christ to break the bonds of sin and death and poverty and all those
walls that we put between ourselves and others. Those who are perceived to be
“less than” are exalted, and those who exalt themselves in this world will
tumble down from their positions of power. Our place in the kingdom of God is
not dependent on what we do or what we have or who we know. It is solely
dependent on the fact that we are beloved children of God. Yes, we are to be
gracious hosts to our neighbor. But we
are also extravagantly hosted. God
neither expects nor demands anything in return from us. There is nothing that we can do that is good
enough to deserve this blessing, and there is nothing that we can do that is
bad enough for it to be taken away. And
this promise changes everything. We are free.
bottom of the social ladder Jesus invites all of us in to eat. To share in a meal with God and with one
another. And we do not have to wait for
our time in a far away heaven to share in this meal. We do this every week when we partake in the
Eucharist. We bring all the broken, messy, painful parts of ourselves to the
table. We are accepted, we are called by
name. This is pure gift. Come and receive.