Big God, Small Table

Let's face facts.  We, as a society, have become deeply polarized.  Wait, it gets worse.  It appears that the Church at large, the people who say they follow Jesus, is also divided, but has even contributed to the division.  And the local church -- our church -- isn't immune.

So the question we'll be asking throughout this 7-week series is: 
We’ll be spending quite a bit of time in Luke’s account of the Gospel, and he loves stories of Jesus at the table with people.  One great example is Luke 14:1-23, when Jesus was dining at the home of a prominent religious official.  There’s a lot in this long section, including a parable that would have been deeply troubling to his original hearers.

The premise of the parable in verses 15-23 is that the Master of the house is throwing a banquet, there are plenty of empty seats, and the Master wants those seats filled.  It’s not a question of whether or not there will be a party – it’s a question of who will be there.  And of course the “important” people at this religious leader’s home would have assumed they’d be there.  Of course they would, right?

Now, the table was a common image for the family of God, God’s covenant people, Israel.  And the image of the “Messianic table” would have been that of the final great feast when God brought his restoration and salvation to the … whole world.  But by Jesus’ time, the Jewish culture had fallen into the habit of believing that God’s final will was for only Israel.  They had forgotten or ignored the original covenant with Abraham, that God intended to bless the world.  

In the parable, the Master throws a banquet, but his guests make up lame excuses not to attend.  So lame, in fact, that it’s obvious they’re attempting to sabotage the party, and take control of it according to their own agendas.   But remember – this banquet will happen, it’s just a matter of who will choose to come!

When the original invitees refuse to come, the Master sends for the “poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (compare to Luke 14:13).  But there are still seats left, so he sends his servants to the country roads, which implies the outer reaches of the area, where everyone from strangers to criminals would be found.  And he insists they come as well.   Can you imagine the laughter and feasting around that table?  “What are we doing here?” they might wonder.  As for whether or not they were “appropriate” guests…the Master clearly doesn’t mean for his servants to make that call.  His first play is simply to show them his generosity and joy.  The rest can be attended to in due time.  

UPPC’s theological heritage has always believed in and proclaimed a “big God.”  But we’re still human, just as likely to try to make our big God sit only at our small table.   So during this season of Lent, we’re being called to be challenged afresh by Jesus’ words, and to challenge the assumption that the table we’re accustomed to is “big enough” for God.   It’s likely to make many people feel vulnerable, largely due to a wicked “us vs. them” or “culture wars” mentality that has permeated our culture.  And frankly, there are Christian traditions and denominations whom have made that rhetoric their bread and butter for a long time.  But does it fit the Gospel we read?

For reflection:
1) Does the idea of inviting the “riff raff” to Jesus’ table make you uncomfortable?  (If it doesn’t, how honest are you being when you think of who that riff raff would be?)
2) Does the idea of inviting someone who is outside your comfort-community make you feel at all vulnerable?
3) Pray about this, and as you listen for the Holy Spirit, keep track of scriptures, words, or phrases that come to mind that might be God speaking into your vulnerability.
4) Reflect on this crucial point: “It is not ‘our’ banquet.  It is the Master’s.”
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