Happy Labor Day!
What do we make of Jesus’ words, “Friend, move up higher”?
Let’s try it out right now!
(I leave the altar and invite the Rollando family to the front seats.)
What is Jesus doing? Is he advocating – unruliness?
We think of religion as something decorous and quiet, but look how Jesus is stirring things up.
On one hand, people just like to sit where they want to sit.
But we know it’s more than that.
It sounds like Jesus wants people who don’t belong to be seated at the table.
He wants us to look at tables and eating differently.
To stop the social climbing while at the table. Not to use MEALS to pay back favors.
And he wants us to invite those who can never pay us back.
What’s going on here?
Is Jesus trying to create awkward social situations? Or is there more to it than that?
Underneath the telling of this parable, there’s a lot of hungering going on.
There’s HUNGERING for food, but also more than food.
There is a HUNGERING for righteousness.
There is a HUNGERING for connection and community. Feeling like we belong somewhere.
When Jesus corrects the Pharisees, to be more inclusive, he’s addressing the HUNGER of the world’s poor to be included. To be SEEN – to have a seat at the table..
Righteousness is a word that God uses to describe God’s self.
God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS is God’s mercy towards us – freeing us when we can’t free ourselves.
It’s not just doing the right thing out of a sense of morality, but a new DESIRE that God puts in our hearts to do the right thing because Christ lives in us.
That makes us a new creation.
Because we are a new creation, we wish to extend ourselves to others.
There is a NEW relationship possible.
Relationship is always key to understanding God’s righteousness.
Because God GRACIOUSLY loves us and that love has freed us, out of gratitude we extend ourselves to others.
To notice those who are socially invisible.
To work to get the world to cooperate in ways that parallel what God’s WANTS for us.
Like a good parent, God wants us to be happy and God sees our happiness occurring in COMMUNITY with ALL kinds of people.
What stops us?
In today’s gospel, Jesus wants these outcasts and marginal people AT THE SAME TABLE at the SAME TIME as the good people.
Of course, there’s RESISTANCE. I’m sure there must have been a DEAD SILENCE when Jesus proposed including the poor and the lame.
Our God sees HEARTS not status. God, the creator of the COSMOS and the heavens the planets and smallest bacteria, is not impressed with our social hierarchy.
Jesus is not just an observer, or a philosopher; he puts his LIFE on the line and puts it into practice, taking him ultimately to the CROSS.
God looks at us, and a lot of what God sees, I’ll take a guess, looks like MEAN GIRLS to him.
You know the Broadway musical, Mean Girls, by Tina Fey, first a movie now on Broadway. Those high school girls were striving for empty status.
They worked very hard for empty lives, lives of illusion.
They hunger for status and acceptance.
We laugh when we watch the movie, it’s amusing, but too true. They make a twisted community where they are their own worst enemies and we know it’s played out at the adult level.
Can you remember back to junior high school, WHERE you sat at the table in the cafeteria.? It was of too much importance. Kids who made the mistake of sitting where they didn’t belong, would be embarrassed, and sent to the SIBERIA area of the cafeteria.
There was SHAME if you sat where you shouldn’t.
Have we outgrown that yet?
So here is Jesus at the table, and he is OBSERVING the hierarchy and he turns it upside down. Not only are we not to rush for the best seats, but we are to SHARE with those on the margins who would NEVER be invited: the poor, the homeless, the small and weak.
We may be tempted to judge the Pharisees – ‘thank you I’m not like them!” but then we become the kind of people who divide the world into categories – US vs THEM. Jesus says, ENOUGH!
Jesus wants us to have the heart of a small child, with an open heart who includes everyone.
It makes the news when people act like Christ. On the news on Tuesday, they ran a story about a little boy with autism and his first day at school. He was eager to begin, but once he got there, he was overwhelmed.
Too much stimulation! But then, another little boy saw him, and the photo was of him stretching out his arm to the boy with autism who had his head down.
The two boys were of different races, but the social hierarchy was irrelevant. One boy saw the other in need, and acted. He reached out. The two mothers were so touched. The mother of the boy who reached out, said she knows her son has a big heart and she’s so proud of him.
The boy’s mother was so anxious for her autistic son to be accepted and to have an easy time. She HUNGERED that her son would be seen by others as SHE sees him. That they see him as someone who is LOVEABLE.
We are not to just admire Jesus; we are to DO what he DOES.
Sarah Miles is a former journalist who calls herself the least likely person to be a Christian. She wrote a book, Take This Bread, and there’s a sense of unruliness that comes with responding to Christ’s call of inclusion.
She recalls that feeding people, feeding homeless people, finding TONS of food and giving it away, came DIRECTLY out of her receiving Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament.
When Christ fed HER with his body and blood, it created a NEW desire in her to feed hungry people. It opened her eyes to hungry people all around her, and somehow she was able to put her hands on tons of food to feed them.
Christ gave her a NEW heart, a willing heart to feed a hungry world. Jesus sees us sitting down to eat with ALL KINDS of people. How can WE reach out to the people right here on Centre Ave.? I’ll bet there are hungry hearts that live nearby.
When we SEE as Christ sees, our community of LOVE gets BIGGER. GRACE enlarges our world. Christ draws us closer to him.
If we SURRENDER our pride, God’s LIGHT can shine in our lives and the lives of others.
This parable of course points us to a larger, deeper, more COSTLY way of life. A life where we give without the hope of receiving.
We can never repay Christ.
We know this.
And here we are seated at HIS banquet, where he is the host and the bread of life.
In our heart of hearts, we know we are beggars too.
We can’t give ourselves the bread of life.
Only Christ can give us the GIFT of HIMSELF.
We can only thank him with thankful and HUMBLE hearts.
Our hands are empty at the banquet, yet Christ FILLS our empty hands.
He ELEVATES us – to sit with him.
He CALLS us to him – to sit with GOD’S Son.
What an amazing God we have.
Because he is OUR bread of life, in turn, he would like us to reach out to others who are on the margins.
To GIVE as we have been given.
The ministry here at St. John, the INN reaches out to feed hungry people.
At the end of the gospel, Jesus says we will have eternal life, and invites us to TRUST the God who is FAITHFUL to the end. Who rewards acts of self-giving.
Our eternal life begins NOW in these grace-filled acts of mercy where we fill the hungry with good things.
Can we look anew at our tables and invite a different kind of guest to eat with us?
Because we are all HUNGERING.
Say, ‘Friend, move up.”
Lord, give us new hearts to include more people at our tables.
Give us new hearts we can even SEE them.
We pray this in the name of Jesus, our Lord.
Blessings of the Labor Day weekend to you all!