Summary: The less fortunate in our society need both our natural gifts and the dignity that comes with being acknowledged. They need the gift of our friendship, and we need them as well.
When I was preparing my sermon for this morning, I couldn’t help but think of the Christmas song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. Now before you start thinking that I’ve been working too hard and need a vacation let me explain. There is a verse in that song that ties in quite nicely with my sermon. It goes like this:
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows when you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake.
Jesus is always watching us, especially how we treat others. Consider the situation in this morning’s Gospel reading for example. Jesus was invited to a banquet at the home of a Pharisee, and not because the Pharisee was a big fan of Jesus. In fact, you might remember that the Pharisees always gave Jesus a hard time because his teachings always went against their rules and practices. The real reason behind the invitation was that the Pharisee wanted to get a better view of Jesus.
When Jesus arrived, he noticed that all of the important people in the society were vying to get the seats closest to the guest of honour, while those of lower classes sat at the back. The same thing happens with us. All we have to do is remember that at many of the formal banquets that we have attended, there is always a head table that is reserved for guests of honour and other important people. Jesus rebuked the elite for thinking that they were better than everyone else, and he warned them that they would be in for a big surprise in God’s kingdom.
He also warned the host for only inviting the elite. He urged the host to invite the less fortunate to his table, just like he urges us to invite the poor to our tables. In fact, Jewish law very consistently commanded care for the less fortunate. In Leviticus 19:34, the connection is very clear, “You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God”. Jesus’ life and ministry asks us if we are doing this.
Contrary to what it might seem Jesus’ advice has nothing to do with worldly self-promotion. It deals with life in God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom, there will be a role reversal. Those who consider themselves to be first on earth will be last in heaven, and those who are last on earth will be first in heaven. In other words, the mighty will be humbled and the humble will be exalted. (Pause)
Imagine this situation, if you will. A husband comes home from work on a Friday night. As he comes into the driveway, he sees that there is a rented tent in the back yard. Under the tent are tables and chairs for about forty people. A bandstand and a dance floor are in one corner of the tent. Decorations are hanging everywhere. None of this was there when the husband left for work in the morning. Seeing all of these preparations and having them come as a surprise, what do you think then husband might think?
One reaction might be panic: “Good Lord! It’s our anniversary, and I’ve forgotten about it!” After a few minutes, he might realize that it is not their anniversary, so he might continue thinking, “I guess all this must be for a birthday party”. Now suppose the husband walks into the backyard and finds his wife cooking a huge pile of chickens and choice steaks. He might think, “Wow! This is going to cost me a bundle!”
Then suppose his wife looks up, smiles sweetly and asks, “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” His guess might be “Relatives, friends, neighbours and business associates”. Before he can answer, she continues, “I’ve invited twenty homeless men from the local homeless shelter, clients of the local food bank, and residents of the local nursing home. Don’t worry dear, you won’t know anyone, and best of all, not a single one is likely to ever pay us back”.
Now given that situation, the husband might think that the wife is ready for the mental hospital, but in reality she is following the words of Jesus in Luke 14:12-14. “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they might invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous”
This is a call to trust God to repay what the less fortunate cannot. God will repay us at the resurrection of the righteous. On Judgment Day, God will also repay those who have wronged his people throughout history. The evil-doers in history will get what they deserve, so the Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein and others like them will get their just punishment. In fact, a good punishment for Hitler might be for him to be made a waiter at God’s banquet and have to serve the table of the King of the Jews. That day will be an example of the old adage, “What goes around, comes around”.