Filling the House

Luke 14:15-24
David A. Davis
March 27, 2022
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Hasn’t everyone been to an awkward dinner party? In the early years of ministry, I did a lot of weddings and funeral for people who were not members of the church. Frankly, in those days the honoraria helped put groceries on the table. As I was having pre-marital conversations with one couple, I made a rookie mistake. As we were scheduling the last of the four meetings prior to the wedding day, the bride to be said with some enthusiasm, “Instead of meeting here in your office, why don’t you and your wife come to our house for dinner?” Cathy still hasn’t forgiven me for my answer. Awkward may not be a strong enough description. Of the many things I could tell you that I distinctly remember from more the 30 years ago, one rises to the top. The entire evening our hosts called me “Bob”.  Not Rev. Davis. Not Pastor Dave. Not Dave. But Bob. Cathy kept finding ways to mention my name; like “when DAVE and I were married”, “I’m from North Jersey, DAVE is from Pittsburgh.” It never worked. They called me Bob the entire evening. With all due respect to Thornton Wilder and his play “The Long Christmas Dinner”, it wasn’t any time around Christmas but it might have been the longest dinner.

Here in the 14th chapter of Luke, the setting of the parable that Dr Barreto names “The (Not So) Great Dinner” is actually a dinner party itself. Jesus tells the parable pretty much at the dinner table. The dinner party is in the house of a leader of the Pharisees. The dinner party isn’t awkward, it is tense; really tense. A first-time reader of any of the gospels would be able to identify an evolving tension between Jesus and the religious leaders. But if one is reading Luke backwards, if one starts with the spectacle of the crucifixion, well, to say there was “tension at the part” doesn’t begin to describe it. This parable Jesus tells of “the great dinner” and this party hosted by the leader of the pharisees, it all contributes in no small way to Jesus getting killed. It was just a dinner party! It was just a story about a dinner party! No, it was one more step, one more factor, one more straw that led to the religious establishment and the empire conspiring to murder the One the angels in the gospel of Luke name “A Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord”!

Luke sets the dinner scene right at the beginning of the chapter. Jesus was going to the leader’s house to “eat a meal on the sabbath”. They, the host and all the other religious leaders, were, according to Luke, “watching him closely.” Right away Jesus heats things up a bit when he sees a man who ha dropsy. “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath or not?” Jesus asks the lawyers and the Pharisees. “But they were silent”. One has to assume these folks were not silent, were not at a loss for words all that often. Last week, in the gospel lesson after Jesus said “give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s”, the response of the spies and the leaders and the crowds was to be amazed and to become silent. Here, Jesus asks about healing on the sabbath and they are silent. Jesus takes the man away, heals him, and sends him away. Then Jesus says, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull them out on the sabbath day?” Luke reports “they could not respond to this.” Yes, they were not just silent. They were steamed. They were absolutely furious at Jesus.

What they didn’t know was as they were watching Jesus; Jesus was watching them. As they all move to take their seats at table, apparently in silence, Jesus notices how the guests were choosing the places of honor. How they were vying for the good seats. Jesus told them they should always go for the less important seats. Who wants to be told to move when someone more distinguished arrives and the hosts has to ask you switch seats. That would be embarrassing. Always better to be invited later to a place of honor. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus then turns to the one who invited him and said it’s lot easier to have a lunch or dinner and invite friends or family or the people down the street who are rich because all those folks will be expected to return the favor and invite you to a meal. “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 righteousness.” What do you think ticked off the holy powers more? Jesus healing on the sabbath. Jesus telling them to be humble. Or Jesus, yet again in Luke, pointing to the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Jesus again in Luke telling anyone who would listen that you should out to the lanes and the streets, find the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and say “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Of those three (sabbath, humility, caring for the most vulnerable), I vote for number 3. Because they know, the religious leaders know,  and Jesus knows, that the law of God instructs them, requires them,  to care for the poor, and the crippled, and the lame, and the blind. Jesus poking the bear? Oh yeah. Jesus touching a nerve? You bet. Jesus hitting too close to home? Yep. Jesus is unrelenting when it comes to hitting too close to home Then. Now. Forever. As the preacher in the Book of Hebrews proclaims, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

It is only now, in the unfolding drama of Luke chapter 14, when you can cut the tension with a knife, that some poor dinner guests says, “Well, okay then, let’s just have some soup, shall we?” Actually, the dinner guest says, “Blessed is the one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” One commentator suggests that the guest was enjoying the banquet and was expressing his confidence at having a reserved seat at the messianic banquet. I can’t imagine anyone was enjoying the great dinner at that point. I think he was just trying to break the tension. “Yeah, so um, here’s the bread, here’s the meat. Thank you God! Now let’s eat”. But relentless Jesus; Jesus keeps going and tells the parable I read for your hearing.

“Someone gave a great dinner and invited many.” Excuses abound, likely they were legion. Only three are mentioned. When the great dinner party hosts receives the report on the RSVP’s, he becomes angry and sends the servant out to the streets and lanes of the town. “Bring in the poor…. the crippled…. the blind…. and the lame.”  There they are again on the lips of Jesus. The “silence” at the table at this point, had to have been deafening. “Sir, there is still room.” And the host responds, “Go out into the roads and lanes and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.”  The dinner host longed for the house to be full, that the people of God: the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, that all God’s people might be filled.

It’s the parable of the great dinner and this is Luke’s gospel. Where Mary, the mother of Jesus sings about the Mighty One who has done great things. “He had filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” Luke’s gospel, where Jesus stood in the synagogue and read from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Spirit has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” This is Luke’s gospel: the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. And you know that’s not a complete list!

I imagine Jesus pausing before the last word from the host in the parable. Jesus pausing and looking straight into the eyes of every guest who is now seething and even now trying to figure what to do with him, how to get rid of him, how to kill him. The parable of the great dinner ends with “For I tell, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” Ouch. The lawyers, the scribes, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees all wallowing in their anger at Jesus. And what if the host of the great dinner in Luke was concerned most with just getting people fed: the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame. Being filled. It would be easier if one could conclude that the parable of the Great Dinner was about filling pews, or growing the church, or converting souls. But in the gospel of Luke, “filling the house” may have little to do with seating capacity. It could also be about filling….the house. Filling up those who are of the household of God who are hungry. The religious leaders all hear, all focus, all obsess on judgment, condemnation, personal afront. So maybe they miss here in the parable, the exhortation, the sending,  the call to action, and the promise of a vision of the household of God being full.

The news, the pictures and the footage still coming from Ukraine continue to be heartbreaking. People being killed while standing in a breadline! Children dying while trying to stay safe in a shelter. As long as war and violence and terror eat away at the world’s fabric and the children of God are dying of hunger in a world with such wealth and resources, there is always going to be tension when Jesus is at the table. And, yes, there is judgment and condemnation. But from the lips of Jesus, from the teaching of Jesus, from the grace of Jesus, there will always be exhortation, sending, call to action, and a plea to work and serve until the whole household of God is full. Because the spectacle of the cross always points to a death defying, evil stomping, empire conquering resurrection hope. Not just for you and me, but for the world.

The young, African American poet Amanda Gorman recently published a collection entitled Call Us What We Carry. It is volume filled with poetry that speaks to the last two years of challenge, suffering, and bitter division that we all know so well. But it is also a book of poetry about hope, endurance, and the future. The signature poem “What We Carry”, it speaks  of a hopefulness and perseverance in the world we live in. To me, it sort of drips with the imagery and themes of faith and life and future. Our future in God; with Christ Jesus forever exhorting, sending, calling. Hear this last part of the poem “What We Carry” by Amanda Gorman.

Jesus, the One crucified, the One Risen, calls you and calls me to walk into tomorrow…that one day, one day, his house, the very household of God,  may be filled.