We dedicate this post to our long-time friends, Phil and Paula Crow. They lived as a marriage should be lived – with joy in each other and in the service of God and his people. Phil died yesterday after many years of health issues. We will miss you, Phil.
As the holiday season is rapidly approaching and especially as so much of the holiday season involves meals, we thought we would follow up on last week’s post with once again observing Jesus closely to see how we should be a host or guest at a meal. The following are things we have gleaned from Luke’s gospel on the subject.
1. Invite the poor, lame, crippled and blind. Lk 14: 13. So much time and energy is often expended trying to decide who to invite. There is now the “a” list and “b” list. The “b” list people get invited when “a” list people decline. Jesus tells us to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Not likely to be “a” list people or so we think. I often wonder how many of the “a” list people are poor in spirit, have stresses in their life that are crippling, carry heavy burdens that make them lame and are blind to the needs of others. This holiday season when you think of whom to invite to share a meal with you, think about what might be going on in your guests’ lives. As you prepare think of those who are coming and make your home and meal welcoming and warm. If you don’t usually do so, start with grace. Perhaps mention each person by name and/or pray for those who couldn’t be with you or those who are no longer with you. It might change the atmosphere and the issues that they bring with them. The best gift you can give them is your couple love. Let everyone see that you are in touch with each other. Don’t bring to the table any issues that might be between you. Handle them before your guests arrive or agree to a time after the guests leave to handle your “laundry.” Serve them out of sense of generosity and help to ease whatever might be happening in their lives. That way you can forget who will invite you in return and whether their meal will be as fantastic as yours. Be congenial hosts filled with compassion and who knows what healings might happen.
2. Go and sit in the lowest place Lk 14:10
This admonition of Jesus is about avoiding seeking recognition and honor. There are not many places in today’s culture where there is a formal seating order that reflects the importance of the guest seated in a certain position. Weddings and sometimes formal banquets are the exceptions – but Jesus’ teaching, as is usually the case, goes beyond the specific situation in the story. It is about not calling attention to yourself in many situations. I should not seek to be honored, but be willing to accept an honor, in seating position or some other way, when it is offered. It is about humility, but also offers a certain freedom from concern and worry. When I give up my desire to be recognized and honored, I gain the freedom to enjoy the company of the guests I am with, often with the reward of getting to know fun or interesting people. I think Jesus would be quick to remind us that they are all God’s children are worthy of our attention and respect.
3. Do not invite anyone who thinks they might need to repay you. Lk 14:12
I sometimes read the Miss Manners column in the Sunday paper. It surprises me how often the question involves people upset because a guest didn’t bring an expected gift or dish and how often invitations are even upfront about the gifts they expect. Some go so far as to suggest a monetary value. You may not be able to control a guest’s ideas about the need to offer something in return, a gift or counter-invitation, for example, but Jesus tells us to offer an invitation to a guest only because we desire their company. We make a point of providing a good meal and try to prepare dishes that our guests will find delicious. The meal is a pure gift to the guest and places no expectation of anything from him/her, Again, there is a broader message – we should give freely of what we have, especially to those in need, without placing any burden of reciprocation.
4. In response to the man who has dropsy, Jesus shows great compassion. Lk 14: 1-6. This gospel passage speaks about the constant conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus and whether He lives by the law. As usual, Jesus chooses the person over the law. Once again this made me think about how this applies to being a host or guest and even in our marriage. As hosts and guests do we watch for the written and unwritten laws among our families and friends? Who has to bring what, who sits where, how people dress, how someone’s children behave, or who drinks too much? How often are we like the Pharisees in the way they keep score as we think about the above questions? Do we also do this with our partner as well and keep score on what they do or don’t do? While all relationships need guidelines being bound by who does what may cause the relationship to end. We should indeed observe Jesus closely and learn from him how to respond. In this story it is not rules/laws that motivate Jesus. His heart is touched by compassion and justice. He heals the man. Rather than keeping score respond to your guests or host with compassion. Your heart will be transformed and likely justice will be the center of what you say and do and it might transform the celebration.
5. Don’t offer excuses when invited. Lk 14:15-24. How often do we wait to see if we will be invited to some event or celebration and then when we get the invitation we try to come up with some excuse as to why we can’t attend? Jesus uses this scenario to teach us again about how to be a guest. I’m aware of people waiting to the last possible moment to reply to an invitation just in case a better invitation comes along. Some have a ready list of excuses and keep track of which excuse they’ve used before. Jesus tells us not to offer excuses. Invitations come with opportunities to respond to the needs of others. There have been times when I didn’t want to go to something to which we have been invited and as we leave I can enumerate why we were there. Either I touched someone or someone touched me. Some time ago we were invited to someone’s house that Bob worked with. I didn’t know her or many at the party. We weren’t at the party five minutes when a woman took me aside and told me all the things that were not right in her life. I listened and offered a few thoughts in return. She seemed genuinely relieved and thanked me. Had I offered the excuse of not going I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to help another. This holiday season whether you are a guest or host say “yes” to others. It might give the holidays a different twist and when they are over you can reflect on who received the most that holiday season. It will likely be you.
Welcome sinners and eat with them. Lk 15:2
At various places in the Gospels, Jesus is accused by the Pharisees of eating with sinners. It is His way of demonstrating that everyone has value to God and should be treated with respect. We could say that, since we are all sinners, we always eat with sinners, but I don’t take that word “sinner” too literally. To me it means people who are down and out or in some way undesirable – perhaps street people in the city. I witnessed a great example of this a few years ago. I was in downtown Chicago with a group of people from our parish. We went into a fast-food restaurant to get some lunch. The person I was talking with suddenly excused himself and left the table. He had seen a homeless man come into the restaurant and escorted him to the order window, then paid for a meal for him. We sat with the man as he ate and talked with him, listening to his story. This incident prompted me on an occasion when we were in a restaurant to start a conversation with a homeless man. He was looking for money and offered to sell me some poems he had written. I read them and listened to his story and then bought them. Often people worry about being “taken” by someone who doesn’t really “need” or “deserve” our help. Jesus’ message indicates that we should forget about “needs testing” and simply give what we have, without conditions. When anyone, friend, family, worker or stranger, enters our home Rita and I work together to make them feel welcomed and wanted.
We hope that your holidays are filled with family, friends and even strangers and that you will find joy in welcoming others. We hope that you will be welcomed by others, as well. Enjoy!
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