a sermon by John Longhurst in support of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank with reference to Luke 14: 12-24 (Jesus tells a parable of a host inviting the most unlikely guests to his banquet)
In order to fully appreciate the point Jesus is making in this parable, we need some background on social and religions codes in 1st century Palestine. As people who live in the 21st century, we don’t rank people according to their income, social standing, disabilities or religious purity—or, at least, we shouldn’t. As a result, it can be hard for us to understand what is going on in this chapter. Things were more complicated back in first century Palestine. When it came to social events like banquets, there were rules related to wealth & social standing, purity, reciprocity and even where to sit. Only those of similar wealth and social standing, only those deemed pure by the rigorous purity laws of the day, and only those who could afford to extend a return invitation should be invited to be your guests. And as for where to sit, the closer you were seated to your host, the higher your status in their society.
The host in the story had prepared a banquet and invited his guests. Presumably, he had followed all the rules and codes. But when the time came, nobody showed up. They all had excuses—pathetic excuses that anyone at that time could see right through.
One said he had just bought a field and had to go see it. Who does that? Who buys land sight unseen? Another said he had bought five yoke of oxen. Again, who buys anything—a car, say—without a test drive? Ditto for the oxen. Plus, a man of this high social rank would likely not test drive his own oxen. That’s what servants are for. Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ Well, OK. That sounds like a better excuse—until you remember that women at that time were at the bottom of the social ladder, below men. To spend time with a woman, even your wife whom you just married, instead of with a male friend who invited you to a banquet, would be a breach of social etiquette.
The message is clear: The guests won’t be coming, for one reason or another. They have stood the host up and humiliated him. This would normally be an occasion for great shame for the host. But he turns the tables on his guests. He tells his servant: Make room at my table for the marginalized—for the poor, the disabled, the blind. Those who have no economic status, those who are considered impure. By implication, he is saying to the guests who turned him down: You think you’re so great? These people are as good as you. Better, maybe, because they accepted my invitation.
This would have been a scandalous thing for Jesus to say. It challenged the social conventions and understandings of that time. The story of the rich man inviting the poor to his banquet tears down long-held and fiercely-supported walls of exclusion, animosity, convention, rules, customs, and beliefs. It also challenges the rule of reciprocity. These people can’t repay the host. As Jesus said earlier in verses 12-14: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Altogether, this parable was a radical transformation of the values, codes, conventions and social order of the time. It likely scandalized those who heard Jesus speak these words. It was a powerful lesson of how those who are seen as `less than’ are to be treated with dignity as they are given food and welcome—despite what the culture and the religious structure says is appropriate and the “correct” way to live your life and treat others. It challenged those who heard him to imagine a new way of viewing interaction with others, and to stop seeing people as belonging to certain classes or groups based on their wealth, race, gender, or disability All are welcome at my table, Jesus says. I make room for all—and so should you.
At a time when the world seems to be polarizing into us and them; when borders are closing; when people are living in fear of “the other;” when the new rule seems to be to look out for ourselves first—as a country, or as individuals; Canadian Foodgrains Bank takes the message of Jesus seriously: There is room at the table for all. Working with our 15 member agencies, with the generous and faithful support of thousands of Canadians, we make room for people who are poor, victims of war, refugee, children who are malnourished, mothers and fathers worried for their children, farmers trying to make a living off a little plot of land—people who can never repay us. All that is required to be guest at our table is a need for food—no other rules apply.
As Jesus said in Matthew 25 (a paraphrase): When you saw me hungry, you didn’t ask whether I was worthy, whether I had enough money; whether I was the right socioeconomic class; if I was the proper religion; if I had the correct theological belief; if I was disabled or sick; or if I was the correct race or nationality. You just gave me something to eat. That’s all anyone needs for an invitation to the Foodgrains Bank table—you only need to be hungry. Last year the Foodgrains Bank made room at its table for 900,000 people in 39 countries, providing $40 million of food-related assistance.
Like the story of Great Banquet that Jesus told long ago, we are also to prepare banquets for people who are not like us; who are not our neighbours or friends; and who can never repay us. One way to do that is through Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Through the Foodgrains Bank, Canadians can take action in a world of hunger—by being generous and supporting programs that provide food and assistance to farmers in the developing world; by advocating to the Canadian government for good policies that will benefit those who are poor and hungry; by praying for people who live in poverty and worry about where they will get their next meal, both overseas and here in Canada; and by learning more about the issue of hunger. In so doing, we all can put this parable into practice, living out our calling as Christians to make room at the table for those who are hungry