Several years ago, I knew someone who was invited to attend a banquet. This person was asked to attend an organization’s fund raiser event because this person had been a generous financial donor to this organization.
When the person arrived at the banquet, instead of sitting the person at the head table; this individual was relegated to a side table on the far end of the ballroom. The person later stated that they were totally ignored by the Executive Director of the agency.
The person also noted that the banquet food was over-priced and that the portions were small.
Like the joke about the two ladies who went to the Catskills resort restaurant and said:
“ the food is cold, and they give you such small portions. “
My friend noted that the reception at the banquet was cold and that the food portions were small. When you go attend a big formal event and you are ignored or treated badly, you remember.
First Century Hellenistic Judaism placed a value on lavish entertaining. If you went to a wedding, you would probably be staying for a number of days. There would be lots of sumptuous food and plenty of libation. The same was true with funerals. There would also be an emphasis on spectacle including accessing professional mourners to help with the grieving of the deceased.
In the book “ Jesus And The Forgotten City” Richard Batey contends that the city Of Sepphoris provided an urban setting to Jesus’ Galilean years. It was such a cosmopolitan place, Batey maintains, that points to the probability that Jesus spoke both Greek as well as Aramaic and may have delivered a number of parables originally in Greek.
So here we have Jesus attending this social event at the home of a prominent Pharisee ( Luke 14: 1,7-14 ), and Luke points out that “ Jesus was being carefully watched. “ There is controversy again about healing on the Sabbath. The text indicates that a man who was suffering from dropsy was in front of Jesus. The Pharisees and the experts in the law are asked:
“ Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not ? “ When the experts remain silent, Jesus takes hold of the man, heals him and sends him away. He then follows up with his hosts the following observation:
“ If one of you had a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out ? Again, the experts had nothing to say. Also note that the Gospel writer does not mention a daughter along with the son when he talks about falling into a well. Again, we are seeing the prejudice of the period when women are not even mentioned.
It’s against this backdrop that Jesus will now tell this parable.
Jesus notices the guests at the banquet picking their places of honor at the table. Jesus then observes:
“ When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, “ Give this person your seat. Then humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, they will say to you, Friend move up to a better place. Then you will be honored in the presence of your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. ( Luke 14:7-11).
As we all know, this picture is in stark contrast to our contemporary world. I don’t hear a lot of talk about humility these days. For that matter, I don’t experience a flight attendant coming up to me on an airplane and saying, “ Friend, move up to a better place in First Class” Although, it used to happen when I would fly in uniform !
No, we live in a time where there is a lot of bragging and jostling of resources and achievements. Indeed, we are beset with a lot of malignant narcissism in the society. Witness the recent cabinet nominee who said : “ I want a private plane available 24 hours a day, I want to be able to go home on the weekend. I want my own security detail.”
As J.J. Cale ruefully observed:
“ What do you expect ? Cadillac and Chauffeur too. “
You could argue that the virtue of humility is now a hard sell.
Not too long ago, I heard about the young Ivy league graduate who went to work for a prestigious American newspaper. His editor had assigned him a story to cover out in the suburbs. Hours later he was found standing in the commissary. The editor asked him “ Why haven’t you gone out to cover the story ? The young man replied:
“ I was waiting for my driver. “
The Gospel challenges us regarding what we think is important regarding our priorities. We are challenged regarding who we are to consider as important people. Rather than currying favor with the powerful, Jesus is saying that our concern should be with the last of these:
“ Then Jesus said to his host. When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. “ ((Luke 14: 12-14 ).
In the movie “ Places In The Heart ” ( 1985) Edna Spalding ( played by Sally Fields ) is trying to save her family farm in 1935 Waxahachie, TX.
Edna is able with the assistance of Moses, an African-American man, to raise the money to save her property and her business.
Their efforts pay off as Edna and Moses find themselves first in line at the wholesaler with the season’s first bale of cotton. Moses carefully coaches Edna on how to negotiate with the buyer, and as a result, he is unable to cheat her. That night, Moses is accosted by Ku Klux Klan members and savagely beaten. Will, who also helps Edna, recognizes all the assailants’ voices as local white men, confronts and identifies them one by one; they all run off. Moses realizes he will have to leave the farm because of possible future attacks.
The story ends with the community in prayer. Communion is passed among the assembled congregants at the church, hand to hand and mouth to mouth, between both the living and the deceased. The last line of the film is spoken by Wylie to Royce Spalding, “Peace of God”. The film closes with all the characters gathered in church singing in unison.
For me, the closing scene in “ Places In The Heart “ captures for me what the blessed banquet looks like. Here all are seated at the table, with no impartiality. Here all are equal, and all are loved and are beloved. This is the prefiguring of the reality of the Kingdom Of God.
As we gather at the Communion table, we are both connected between the living and the deceased. We are a part of the continuing great cloud of witnesses. We are seated at the great blessed banquet.
Rather than entitlement, let us recognize that being apart of humanity really advocates being charitable and compassionate to all.
What would Jesus do is more than just a catchy bumper sticker, rather it speaks instead to a philosophy and to a commitment in life to be bearers of the Kingdom Of God.
As Joni Mitchell noted in her song “ Banquet “
“ Who let the greedy in
And who left the needy out
Who made this salty soup
Tell him we’re very hungry now
For a sweeter fare
In the cookie I read
Some get the gravy
And some get the gristle
Some get the marrow bone
And some get nothing
Though there’s plenty to spare”
There’s plenty to share and plenty to care.
May it be so with us always.