Formations 09.13.2020: Grace at Meals

Luke 14:15-24

We’re not big “entertainers” in our house. We enjoy having company over every now and then, but we don’t live for it the way, for example, my mother did.

When my dad was working as a high school basketball coach, it wasn’t at all uncommon for one or two of his players—or five or the whole team!—to come over for supper. The prospect of feeding a gang of teenage boys was certainly daunting, but my mom, with an occasional assist from Colonel Sanders, always rose to the challenge.

It looks like the hospitality gene skipped a generation in my family, but that doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally have friends over or maybe even the whole Sunday school class for a Christmas party.

As I read this week’s text from the Gospel of Luke, I realize that I’m actually beginning to miss having friends over for a meal. Since March and the beginning of our coronavirus lockdown, we’ve had exactly one dinner guest. That was a few weeks back after one of Rebecca’s friends helped her move into her college dorm room. It was nice to see and visit with Makayla again.

The Gospels portray Jesus doing some of his best work at the dinner table. We remember the Last Supper, of course (Luke 22). But there are many more stories of Jesus imparting grace at a meal. He ate with Simon the Pharisee and received the hospitality of a sinful woman (Luke 7). He invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house and welcomed him into the fold (Luke 19). He fed the multitudes (Luke 9). After his resurrection, he broke and blessed the bread with the Emmaus disciples (Luke 24).

In Luke 14, we see Jesus sitting down for a Sabbath meal at the house of a leader of the Pharisees. There, he says some words about humble and generous behavior at banquets (vv. 7-14), concluding that one’s generosity will be rewarded “at the resurrection of the righteous.”

An onlooker’s response about how blessed such people will be prompts Jesus to tell a parable about a man who prepared a lavish banquet that nobody wanted to attend. In fact, they insult the host with feeble excuses for their absence. Determined not to be humiliated in this way, the man opens his banquet table to all comers: “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” (v. 21).

The point of Jesus’ parable is the guest list. Who is on it? The very people who wouldn’t have made anybody’s list at all. Not “your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors,” Jesus says (v. 12), but people who could never repay you. Those are the ones who won’t come up with ridiculous excuses because they’re truly grateful for a seat at your table.

That, Jesus says, is what the kingdom of God is like. In the words of the title of a book by Tony Campolo, The Kingdom of God is a Party (Waco TX: Word, 1990). That’s why Jesus’ behavior at the dinner table is so instructive. He welcomes without conditions. He shares without holding back. He treats us like we belong.

It wasn’t always the case that the meal my dad’s basketball players shared with us in our little suburban home was the heartiest meal they would have that week. It wasn’t always the case that they received more loving, more acceptance, more parenting from my own parents than they would have at home. It wasn’t always the case that they felt safe in our house in a way they rarely did in their own.

But sometimes that was exactly the case. Years later, I’ve come to realize that fried chicken or spaghetti may have been on the menu, but what was really being served was grace.

Discussion

• What do you enjoy about dinner parties?
• What does Jesus’ parable tell us about the heavenly banquet?
• Where do we see grace in this parable? Where do we see judgment?
• Why might someone reject God’s invitation to join the party?
• What might this parable say to those who fear they’ve been written off of God’s guest list?
• If God’s kingdom is like a party, how can we respond to the invitation?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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