Is Jesus making fun of us with this parable story? Making it difficult if not impossible to choose where to sit or who to invite?
We just heard Jesus was invited to the house of a leader of the Pharisees, to eat a meal, on the Sabbath. That’s a loaded situation. The verses before, tell of controversies over Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath. It is not surprising then, that the gospel says, “and they were watching Jesus closely.” But it seems Jesus is watching them, watching us, even more closely than we can see ourselves, and oh, how much is revealed.
And so I wonder if Jesus is making fun of us or inviting us to laugh at ourselves? Because, who knows where to sit now? If you sit at the back, some may think you are just faking humility, so you can be honoured by being invited forward. But what if no one invites you? Or, if you sit at the front, what if, as Jesus said, you are asked to move back for someone more important to take your place? Are there middle, more non-committal seats? And who knows who to invite to a banquet or meal now, friends or complete strangers, rich or poor, able or differently able? And when and how will or do we receive a banquet invitation?
Jesus sees right through what is happening at this and many of our meals and gatherings, on the Sabbath or Sunday, or at any time. And maybe smiling, even laughing, Jesus exposes our egos and desires for status and fear of humiliation, and instead invites us into a different way of gathering and feeding and relationship to one another and especially to those considered lower, lesser, least, able or desirable or favoured or blessed or welcome. Who are instead first in God’s world and of Jesus’ concern, and therefore, we pray, of ours too.
Smiling, laughing at ourselves may be just what God knows we need, this world needs, this handwringing, blaming, shouting down, dismissing, competing, consuming, polarized, crises ridden, fractured, broken, depleted, despairing, suffering humanity, planet, creation, needs for healing and wholeness. To laugh at ourselves maybe through tears and be humbled, and in that humility, see God’s hopeful, lifegiving way opened to us all.
We were privileged to attend the Sikh part of a Christian/Sikh wedding two Sundays ago. It was a beautiful and meaningful gathering as was the Christian part here a few days before. Some of the same descriptions apply, maybe to a different degree. The bride and groom were magnificently dressed and looked beautiful as did their families and friends. The prayer room/worship space was elaborately adorned and beautiful. The words and ceremony/liturgy were rich and meaningful, essentially with the couple circling the holy scriptures four times while prayers were chanted and recited and that comprised the marriage, all of this explained in English for those of us who were guests. Families gathered before at the entrance to the temple to greet one another with gifts of flowers given between various family members. A relatively simple but delicious breakfast before and lunch after were offered where people sat wherever, with no head tables or seating lists, and people circulated and visited and laughed and talked together. There were offerings, in the prayer room as one entered and reverenced the holy scriptures, offerings for the musicians and worship leaders, and support for the couple. As outsiders and guests, what we experienced was hospitality, people’s welcome and appreciation that we were present to share in the couple’s joy and blessings with explanations and directions and inclusion in everything that occurred. Everyone removed their shoes and sat on the floor for worship. There were many elders, and they were assisted and provided seating on the sides. And children moved around the room with family and others watching and caring for them. Near the end of the prayers, it was explained that there would be a ritual sharing of food, “like communion” it was said, with a sweet warm dough scooped into a napkin for each person to receive and eat together. I smiled and delighted in the parallels and differences in our spiritual practices and noted especially this ritual food shared with everyone equally and reflected in the meals together before and after. A ritual meal to shape all our meals, eating and drinking so central to who we are and how we see and relate to one another, and I imagined, especially to help us see those who do not have something to eat, who are not included, to change our ways of eating and relating to one another, so all have enough, always.
I joined in worship at Congregation Emanu-El Synagogue yesterday, at the invitation of our Jewish neighbours with whom we are partnering to sponsor a Syrian refugee family, and who hope to be with us next Sunday, and because Rabbi Harry was receiving recognition by the Anglican Diocese for his service to the community. I was greeted very warmly at the door as I arrived, and a person was asked to take me to the worship space, and they assisted me in getting oriented and when to stand and sit, and how to follow in the prayer book. It was a full morning of recited prayers and chanting by various leaders, much of it from the Psalms, said and sung at a pace where the words become a continuous confession of God’s sovereignty and goodness and guiding in every circumstance, words washing over us with ritual responses and actions by worshippers, with pages numbers graciously called out by various leaders to help everyone, especially those of us who were guests or new to follow along. The procession of the Torah scrolls, uncovering and reading from them, were central to the worship. And Anglican Bishop Anna Greenwood Lee was invited to speak to the assembly. She spoke about being people of faith in liminal times, essentially wilderness times, where some want to go back to the way things were, and others want to rush forward without really knowing where to go. And God invites us to remain in the uncertainty, because this liminal space, the wilderness, when we don’t know what to do, is where, maybe the only place where, God is able to work with us as human beings, to reorient and reshape us, for God’s ways of being and living together in a changing world. And the Bishop then presented Rabbi Harry with the Order of the Diocese of Islands and Inlets, for his long and faithful service to the Victoria Community, to multifaith relations and social justice. In his response Rabbi Harry spoke about his hesitancy to receive this and the risk of ego and who is lifted up and who isn’t entering into such recognitions, but also his gratitude for this honour. And he told a story from the early days of his arriving in Victoria, a young Rabbi, out of the blue invited by the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada who was visiting Victoria, to lunch, to meet and talk together about working together to serve the wider community. Rabbi Harry said it was formative for his ministry and a relationship with the Anglican church that has continued. It was a full and wonderful morning of worship and witness to common faith and God’s good purpose in the world. After, I met and spoke briefly with our partners on the joint committee and Rabbi Harry and Bishop Anna, and then there was of course, because it is a spiritual gathering, a lunch, beginning with a blessing of wine and a toast together, and then a blessing of bread and breaking it to share together. I could not stay because my parking meter had long run out, but once again, the parallels and differences in our rituals and the meal, and our common purpose and partnerships, brought a smile to my face behind a mask, and how God is working with all of us for the same good purpose, to reorient and reshape us in God’s ways of hospitality, equity, generosity, mutual love in this world.
The author of Hebrews concludes the letter with essential summarizing words to “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some, like Abraham and Sarah, have entertained angels without knowing it and it changed everything. Remember those in prison and those tortured as though it is happening to all of us, because it is. Honour marriages, because they are essential relationships. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because have wiser words been spoken, and God is the provider of all and there is more than enough for everyone. Remember leaders and imitate their faith, praying they keep the faith and keep one another accountable together. “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Through Jesus let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God…” that is “to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Do we hear and see God’s ways in all this, mutual love, hospitality, equity, generosity, and all the parallels, and in simple or elaborate meals, where the least and forgotten and dismissed, the persecuted, excluded, put down, those who are differently able, racialized, Queer, poor, homeless, hurting are first invited to the banquet, and all have a place at the table, and all have enough. This meal we are invited to and invited to share, is God’s way, known and worshipped by many names, and by God’s gracious Spirit, our way together in this world. Let it be so, in all our meals, and all our relations. Amen.