Proper 17, Jeremiah 2:4-13, Psalm 81:1, 10-16, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-14
You may recall I come from a reasonably large family, 5 kids. The dinner table was, well something of an experience. And when my siblings and I were a little order, and because mom and dad were nurse and doctor, not much was forbidden discussion at the dinner table, so long as you used the appropriate medical terminology; well as close as you could get. We were loud. We’d argue about anything. Everyone talked at the same time. For us dinner had its own peculiar etiquette, and we knew it well. As we got even older and significant others, potential future spouses were invited to dinner we developed an accurate 6th sense; if the guest managed it all, well we had hope for them. Angie still talks about her first Sunday dinner experience. The topic of discussion was … well let’s just say not conventional. Siblings and parents all thought she did great. So did I. She left the table wondering what she had gotten herself into. I am ever so glad she figured it out.
Every so often the challenge is the other way round. Some of you may remember the 1967 classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? staring Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier. Miss Drayton, from a well to do influential, liberal San Francisco family, brings her fiancé home to meet her parents. He is an internationally known medical specialist, from a respectable California family, he’s well dressed, well-mannered and black. It rather puts the family’s beliefs to the test. [i] Remember this film is released four years after the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, three years after the passage of the Civil Rights Acts, and two years after the Voting Rights Acts. It pushed a lot of families’ beliefs to the edge. It challenged our social norms.
1934 years earlier, Jesus is challenging all kinds of norms. Today’s Gospel story is Jesus’ version of Emily Post. [ii] Or not. Jesus is invited to dinner, at the home of a leader of the Pharisees. Curious. When he arrives he meets a man with dropsy. Curiouser. He asks his host Is okay to heal on the Sabbath? Remember the mess stirred up when he did exactly this two weeks ago. After a few moments of sheer silence, he heals the man, then references the supporting verses from Torah. Who knows what might have been, but the dinner bell rings. As the crowd goes into the dining room, Jesus notices all sorts of jostling for the prestigious seats; and in the 1st century honor society such seating has real life consequences. And of course Jesus shares a parable about seeking a less prestigious seat, to be offered a more prestigious one. Not being one to let an opportunity get away, he continues with another parable about the next time you host a banquet invite those who can never repay the honor by inviting you to their banquet. Jesus is challenging the norms of 1st century honor society’s notions of influence, power and prestige. Scott Hoezee writes that to fully understand how radical Jesus’ is we have to keep on reading, and hear the story of the great banquet, [iii] where all the invited guests makes excuses not to attend. The host sends his servants into the streets to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, the out-cast, those with no honor, the outsiders, the strangers. This parable ends as the host saying No one I [previously] invited will taste my dinner. Collectively, healing on the Sabbath,besmirching, sullying dinner seating traditions, castigating, rebuking self-serving dinner invitations, and finally trouncing, crushing the clear system of distinctions Jesus has just about abolished the theological justification of the honor bound, cast / class system. He’s not just pushed tradition to the edge, he’s shoved ‘em over.
Now there are a couple of ways people, organization and cultures react when traditions are shoved over the edge. They push back, hard; it often ends up looking like the crucifixion. Sometimes such disruption brings about self-reflection, much like God does in the opening verses of Jeremiah. [iv] And yes, such reflection is dangerous. It can, does reveal truths you’d rather not know. It did with God; it reveals how Israel has rejected God for a host of false Gods. But since God enters self-reflection out of love for God’s people, no matter how hard the truth is, how hard the proper response is, they are motivated by love and therefore full of hope.
A bit of a side note here: Jeremiah also reveals that worshiping false gods diminishes those worshipers. Thus part of self-examination is an honest look at what priorities we use to decide where our energy, time, and money go. Those priorities tell us a lot about who and what we worship. Risky? yes. [v] Necessary? depends on how important your soul is.
Where were we? Oh yes, Jesus has just dissed the entire Jewish traditional honor cast/class system. He invites us to risk an equally honest look at our own individual, church, and social traditions. Some dissing is due. And that raises the question: What’s next? How about another dinner invitation? This one following Paul’s ideal of hospitality to the stranger.
The 1st verse: showing hospitality to strangers, and entertaining angles etc. touches on several Old Testament stories all involving meals, and so has strong theological parallels to everything Luke. However, it’s the notion of the ‘stranger,’ I find most compelling. I expect our autonomic response is that when we give something to the stranger that values moves from the host to the stranger. But in Old Testament times and even in 1st century few people moved beyond where they were born and had little knowledge of the outside world. A stranger brought news from distant, outside lands. A stranger expands their host’s world in ways their host never could, on their own. [vi] The stranger brings value, all their own, to the dinner table.
Also, from last week, you may remember we look a peek forward in Chapter 13, to a reference about Jesus’ crucifixion being outside. I want to take a closer look. In Jewish theology redemption is brought about by the cultic sacrificial system. The only place you can offer a sacrifice is in the Temple. Jesus, the redemptive work of God, happens outside the Temple, on land controlled by the Romans, on land controlled by a stranger. [vii] Given that Jesus’ behavior is very strange, for his day, it’s not going too far to say: “Redemption of all creation comes by a stranger in a strange land.”
When we weave all this together God in Jesus is calling us to risk self-examination of: our faith traditions, i.e. who do we really worship? our social traditions, i.e. where are the divisions between us and who is oppressed and who is given prestige? Is it hard work? Yes. Is it risky? yes, we will discover stuff we do not want to acknowledge; and we know the consequences of what we learn will be disruptive. But as we take the risk, trusting in God’s love, in faith, we walk the path toward hope, promised in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Guess who’s coming to dinner, might just bring you trust in salvation for all.
[i] IMDB.com, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
[ii] Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, September 1, Luke 14:1, 7-14
[iii] Hoezee ibid
[iv] Alphonetta Wines, Working Preacher, September 1, Jeremiah 2:4-13
[v] Wines, ibid
[vi] Erik Heen, Working Preacher, September 1, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
[vii] Heen, ibid
Center for Excellence in Preaching
Scott Hoezee , Jeremiah 2:4-13
Stan Mast, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano, 15 Pentecost, Proper 17 (C) – 2013,
September 1, 2013