Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Well, That Was Awkward

One Sabbath, when Jesus had been invited to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched” (Luke 14:1).

Jesus told the parable of the dinner party while attending a dinner party. Luke 14 begins by telling us that “one Sabbath, when Jesus had been invited to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched” (Luke 14:1). This opening verse wastes no time creating tension. When you combine careful scrutiny with a prominent host, you can sense that something is about to happen.

Luke doesn’t disappoint. As chapter 14 unfolds (read the whole thing) Jesus assumes an in-your-face posture at the table. He is not rude, but he isn’t shy. He is not concerned with tact or with protecting the feelings of his prominent host.

He begins by openly healing a man with dropsy – a condition marked by swollen joints (vv. 2-6). Remember, it’s the Sabbath. Jesus doesn’t do this discreetly. He openly confronts the other Pharisees there. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” No doubts about Jesus’ thoughts on the matter.

Jesus then speaks openly about people who show up at a dinner party and take the best seats at the table (vv. 7-11). He observed that those who presume to take the seat closest to the host are vulnerable to humiliation when someone important shows up and the seat of honor is given to them. Better to take the lowly place and wait to be called to the place of honor. Those already at the table couldn’t miss the point of the story. You can see them shuffling in their seats.

At this point another guest at the table tries to lighten the mood and cut the tension with a pious declaration of blessing on those “who will eat the feast in the Kingdom of God.” That statement only serves as a launching pad for Jesus’ parable about the feast – a story in which the invited end up missing out while the low life of the streets are given their places (vv. 16-24).

I can imagine that everyone was glad when that meal ended and it was time to go home. As the guests make their way home you can hear them saying, “Well, that was awkward.” And it probably was.

But such is the nature of God’s Kingdom. Jesus proclaimed a reality different from the reality we know and live in every day. He held forth practices that call into question our standard ways of doing things. The Kingdom of God is not this Kingdom with a touch of religion thrown in. It’s a different reality, a great reversal, an upside-down approach to life. And the truth of that ought to disturb us.

If the nature of the Kingdom doesn’t bother us at all we’re probably not paying attention. Jesus’ words have a way of calling us into question. To read Luke 14 is to confront my own proclivity for safeguarding tradition at the expense of people. Jesus reminds me that I really do like having the seat of honor. Jesus confronts me with the way my busy life becomes an excuse for not living the Kingdom way.

To invite Jesus into your life is to open yourself to disruption. Jesus is disturbing. What parts of your life is Jesus inviting you to take a look at today?

Having invited you into my life, Lord Jesus, I seem to prefer that you sit quietly while I manage things. But your words and ways call my life into question. Thank you for showing us a different reality. Thank you for the ways you challenge us without condemning us. Make us fit for the reality of your Kingdom, we pray. Amen.

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