Reading Luke 14.1-14 (Book of Common Prayer lectionary)
Preacher Canon Robert Titley
The blockbusting series Dallas has returned to British terrestrial screens, in its new, next-generation form. You may recall this cultural bulletin from a recent sermon; and if you do, you may also remember the calculation of the TV reviewer Clive James that, in the old series, meals occur on average every four minutes. Luke’s gospel is much the same, with meals every few pages, more than in any other gospel, as in Jesus the hospitality of God is made flesh.
Today, Jesus is having a Sabbath lunch at the home of a prominent religious leader along with his influential friends. They use the meal for intrigue, to ‘watch’ Jesus, hoping to catch him out or humiliate him – it’s a rather Dallas sort of occasion. Jesus tests them by healing someone on the Sabbath-day – not a day for work – then teases them with a bit of etiquette advice. He sees how people are jockeying for the best seats, and gives them a tip about how to find your spot at a swanky wedding reception: go high, and you risk humiliating demotion; so, to avoid embarrassment, aim low, and the host may give you an upgrade.
This is sound advice for social occasions, but Luke says it is a parable, a double-edged story, a tale about God. It hints as much in its famous punch-line about the exalted being abased and the humble raised up. Jesus tells this tale about God here, among the religious elite, big wigs with education and status, used to getting the best seats in the synagogue (Luke 11.43), and seen by many as deserving a good seat with God. God is the host of the feast in Jesus’ parable: those who have impressive religious credentials, who are used to sitting on the top tables because, according to the L’Oréal doctrine, they’re ‘worth it’, these are the ones who are going to be embarrassed at the banquet of God; but the ones who don’t have the credentials, the ones people forget about, they are the ones God will invite up to be close to his heart. So all who push themselves forward will be will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be honoured.
That is how the guest list will work in heaven, at the marriage supper of the Lamb, and we sit at a foretaste of that banquet this evening. Here, among us tonight in the bread-breaking of the Holy Communion, is enacted a quiet sign of what heaven will be like, a gentle turning of the world upside down, in which people with clout know they haven’t got it all, and people the world forgot walk tall, because God really wants them close.
Some lines of RS Thomas from his poem ‘The Kingdom’
It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission