Many of the stories about Jesus are stories at a dinner table. Jesus ate with all kinds of people, and then he often told parables about dinner tables and wedding banquets.
One such story is from Luke 14.
Jesus had been invited to dinner, and in just a few sentences he managed to embarrass the guests and offend the host — all this before dinner was served.
When it was time to gather at the table, the guests were scrambling for the best seats, vying for the places of honor.
Recognizing this, Jesus quotes a proverb saying you really ought not try to get the honorable seat without being invited to do so – because how embarrassing it would be if the host had to move you to a less honorable seat. It would be much better to start at a lower spot and then have the host elevate you to the more honorable seat.
Then Jesus manages to offend the host by going over the guest list. In essence, Jesus is saying to the host, you only invited these people because you know they will invite you next time.
Instead, Jesus says, you should invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind because they never get invited to anything and because there is no way they can repay.
I would imagine it was a strained, tense, awkward dinner party. But as you can guess, since we are talking about Jesus, this is about more than guest lists and dinner party etiquette.
For the gospel writer Luke, “the table” represents the Kingdom of God. Whenever Jesus is “at table”, something about the Kingdom of God is about to be revealed.
Things in the Kingdom of God work a little bit different from the way things work in the world.
After directing the host to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to the banquet, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding banquet — that word parable is a clue.
It is a clue that something about God is about to be revealed. A parable is a surprising revelation of the Kingdom.
Jesus is revealing what kind of host God is — a host who invites the “un-invitable”; the ones who cannot repay.
Jesus is also is encouraging others to be as welcoming and hospitable and generous – for these are characteristics of the Kingdom of God.
From my own experience, I have had opportunity to be the outsider, the stranger, the foreigner living in another country, and I have experienced generous hospitality from hosts in that country.
When my husband and I lived in Taiwan over 26 years ago, we had two opportunities to attend wedding banquets. We had NOT been invited by the bride and groom nor their families.
So yes, we were WEDDING CRASHERS. We had, however, been invited by other guests who had been invited and they assured us it was OK to attend the wedding dinners.
Both times we intended to be inconspicuous — but when you are the only Americans present, that is not always easy.
The custom for wedding banquets was to have a feast with 10-12 courses. While all the guests are eating, the bride and groom move from table to table to have a toast with all their guests.
Let me say again, in both cases we did not know the bride and groom; we had never met them.
So as they approached our table we began to feel uneasy — after all, we had CRASHED their wedding banquet. When they came to our table, we still attempted to be inconspicuous.
Introductions would be made, and we would be asked many questions including why we were in Taiwan, how did we like Taiwan, and the conversation would go on and on. Then the photographer would be called to our table, and on two separate wedding occasions, Jeff and I had our pictures taken with the bride and groom.
So just think, somewhere in Taiwan, over the years, a married couple have been showing their wedding pictures to friends and family, and there in one picture will be June and Jeff Fryman … the Americans who came to their wedding.
We were made to feel that their wedding celebration was made complete because we were there. Can you begin to imagine how we felt?
We were foreigners crashing their wedding, and yet we were made to feel not only welcomed but welcomed as honored guests.
Can you begin to imagine how Jesus makes over us when we dine with him? How much more he loves us; how much more he wants to shower us with God’s love and mercy and acceptance, making us feel welcome, as if each one of us is the most important, as if the PARTY would not be complete without us?
As welcome as Jeff and I were made to feel when we crashed weddings in Taiwan, it is a small comparison to how Jesus makes over us when we dine with him.
There will be a day, a day for each and every one of us, when we are called to the place of honor.
God will say, “Come and take your place, move up the table to the seat of honor, come and sit by me.”
But in the meantime, the rest of us gather together around God’s table in our congregations, where all the places are important and all seats are seats of honor, because God is present, and God has called us to dinner.
Rev. June M. Fryman is Chairperson of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association and Pastor of Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wilmington.