Pentecost 14C, 2007
Luke 14: 1, 7-13
A Liturgy is also available
A MEAL INVITATION FROM AN ‘UPSIDE DOWN’ GOD...
For the past nine months or so we have been hearing gospel stories
told by the storyteller we call Luke.
Many of them we know and count them as favourites.
Some we remember, but know them less well.
While there are many things we can say about Luke’s gospel,
one of the important things that should be said over and over again, is:
this gospel was written by a person, to a people, who thought in stories.
From the many stories available within the Jesus tradition,
this storyteller has selected and imagined and stitched together,
a series of stories in order to create the meaning necessary
for that particular moment in time.
And the hearers participated in these stories in their imagination
and worked together with the storyteller
to discern the meaning, the reality,
the so-called ‘point’ of the telling.
Today’s story is set around a meal... and the accepted protocol
which went with such important public events.
From previous stories we know that meal times
are special times for storyteller Luke and his small community.
In this story a common theme running throughout the whole collection,
is again given emphasis: Jesus turns everything upside down with respect to the world’s values.
I invite you now to listen to another story of ‘great reversal’.
A couple began planning their wedding.
They were somewhat overwhelmed at the thought of how expensive it would be
to have even a simple party
for all the people they hoped would come
to celebrate this important occasion with them.
The bride spent two years after university working as a volunteer with very poor people.
She found it hard to justify the expense.
Still, they felt a wedding is a time to gather their large families
and many friends, to witness their commitment and rejoice with them.
Finally they decided on a way to celebrate and at the same time help people less fortunate.
They included a card in their invitation, inviting guests
to help them help the poor and disabled
by considering a donation to one of their favourite charities.
This concern for the poor touched many who received the invitation.
Those who attended the wedding commented on how impressed they were
by the surprise of the invitation and the thoughtfulness of the couple.
As a result several charities received generous donations.
And by all accounts, the wedding was a great feast.
What do we do with these ‘great reversal’ stories?
It would be a mistake to take the words of Luke’s Jesus as a demand
for a fundamentalist Christian ‘humility’ that says: “I am nothing”.
A person who attaches no value to herself
can not truly value others.
Likewise it would also be a mistake to assume this particular story
was just about table manners, applicable say, to a Network group.
I reckon it is nearer the mark to say, Luke heard in the teachings
of the one we call Jesus, the invitation to be free from the need
to always advance your own cause
by coming out on top.
In other words, one way we can hear this story is:
Luke’s Jesus is announcing an unexpected, new community protocol.
Now some folk still want to call it a new ‘kingdom’ protocol.
But that language is stuck in the era of the King James Bible.
A more appropriate language for today is to speak of a new ‘empire’ protocol.
Where the normal order of things are reversed:
the exalted are humbled and the humble are exalted,
the first are last, and the last are first.
This is subversive wisdom from a radical Jesus.
And that’s one of the shocks in this story.
But there are a few more hanging around the edges of this story.
Eating together and sharing food
“in a society constantly threatened by hunger and famine” (Scott 2001:129)
meant that it was often a competition just to be at the table.
And those who run empires, be they the Roman empire or the Australian empire of the empire of China, or the USA,
know it is better for people to compete against each other
than it is for people to co-operate together.
Competition divides. Co-operation unites.
So once again we hear the radical Jesus behind Luke’s Jesus.
Share. Don’t hoard. Co-operate. And imagine the results.
A radical Jesus.
But as this word can be loaded with a heap of emotional garbage…
a radical who’s revolt takes on a special form. “He revolts in parable” (Scott 2001:138).
Similar to that other saying: the pen or word is mightier than the sword.
Biblical scholar Brandon Scott amplifies this statement:
“I see no evidence that Jesus was leading a political revolution or that he had a social program in mind. He clearly affected the lives of people, but he was not a social organizer or activist” (Scott 2001:138).
Jesus ‘revolts’ in story - especially in that special story called parable.
His language suggests a counter-world, a hoped-for world
“that redresses the world as it is and… makes sense” (Scott 2001:140).
Let me repeat that. Re-imagines a counter world that makes sense.
That’s what people say about the vision of religion
suggested by Bishop Jack Spong, and turn out in their thousands to hear him.
That’s what people say about proposals to lessen greenhouse gases in our atmosphere,
or remove pollution from all our waterways.
That it makes sense!
Of course not every one agrees on any of these issues, more’s the pity.
So untimately it all comes down to one simple invitation:
have faith with Jesus rather than faith in Jesus.
Again Brandon Scott is helpful, I reckon, on this radical statement:
“In the re-imagined world of the parables we stand beside Jesus and trust that his world will work, that it can provide the safe place – the empire of God – that resists all other empires. Jesus is our companion on the journey, not our Lord and Master… Like Jesus we can be faithful to the vision of the parable” (Scott 2001:149).
That is all we can be.
Faithful to the re-imagined vision of the story.
Scott, B. B. 2001. Re-imagining the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.