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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

By Dr. Mary Craig

Do you love a good meal with good company? Do you like to entertain and be hospitable? Maybe youíve abandoned the whole idea of the dinner party because you find it exhausting and expensive, especially if youíre in a culture that struggles to surpass the expectations of cuisine and seeks to ensure just the right guest list. Maybe you find itís just not worth the effort, especially if you as host are expected to have your house so-so, a testament to some standard of impeccable taste, keeping up with the latest trends of color and design.

In the Bible we see the "power of the feast" with hospitality enjoined in the practice of the shared meal. Early on, Abraham entertained three men who turned out to be angels. They arrived out of nowhere and yet were welcomed without hesitation. Abraham mustered a great meal, the best that could be found, as he set himself to tending to the needs of these sojourners and strangers suddenly in his care and keeping. To Abraham the message is clear: care for the stranger will bring a blessing. (Genesis 18, Matthew 25.35-40)

The Greek word for hospitality combines philia (brotherly love) and xenos, (stranger). Thus emerges the biblical concept of hospitality as demonstrating the love of kinship to those who are strangers. Thereís like this code of hospitality that is not to be broken, as it is, for example, in Macbeth, where someone who is guest, kinsman, and king gets murdered by his own host while sleeping in his bed. Hospitality should be about self-giving and care, not self-advancement and self-display.

In Luke 14 a leader among the Pharisees invites Jesus to Sabbath day dinner. As Jesus went into the house, they watched Him. Basically, it was a set-up, a ploy to trip Jesus up in some heresy. It was hospitality with a hidden agenda. Now the Pharisees didnít normally invite someone with dropsy, but such a man was either invited and on his way to the dinner or was outside hoping for alms. The affliction would have been such that because of kidney trouble, a heart condition, or liver problem, tissues fill with water, causing great pain. The Pharisees used this man as "bait." Would Jesus ignore the man and so be charged as having no compassion? Or would Jesus heal the man and give them cause to accuse Him of violating the Sabbath?

Jesus had been there, done that, so what was the deal? (See Luke 4.31-37, Luke 4. 38, 39, Luke 6.1-5, John 5.1-9, Luke 6.6-10, Luke 13.10-17, John 9.) Their plot backfired. Actually, they couldnít heal anyone on any day! Jesus healed the man and then put them to the question. They would pull their work animals out of the ditch on the Sabbath, so it would be they who would have to deal with being seen as lacking compassion on the one hand or lawless on the other. They could work the law to preserve their own comfort and serve selfish convenience, making the law a robbery. Or they could work the law to protect their convenience, making it something to be kept rigidly. Jesus speaks to the falseness of their piety, exposing the effort to manipulate the law for the sake of personal convenience.

Before entering the arena, Jesus sends the man away healed. Unlike His host and his guests, Jesus did not see the man as an inconvenience and disturbance. The people at the dinner party were watching Jesus, so Jesus starts watching them. He notices how they choose out the chief rooms, or best places or seats at the tables. He looks for what they love, their treasure. That turns out to be the praise of men, a love to be esteemed and honored. Heís building up to something, for those with selfish ambition take the place of honor at the feast at the expense of exploiting the weak and condemning the humble. Basically, the message is that if you pursue the seat of honor on earth you will give up your seat in heaven. (cf. Matthew 18.3; 5.20)

Now everyone wants to feel important and be noticed. High standing in society means getting invited to the right parties held at the right homes and being seated in the right places. It isnít so much about character as it is about reputation. In Jesusí day, the closer you sat to the host, the higher you were on the social ladder and the more attention you would receive and maybe better invitations from prominent others. Einstein said, "Try not to become a man of success, but try to become a man of value," but then Einstein hadnít been born yet. The people of Jesusí time did, however, have access to the Proverbs, including Proverbs 25.6, 7.

The thing that strikes me is that Jesus, the invited guest at this Sabbath day dinner, is the Creator God and Redeemer. Heís right there, not scrambling for the seat of honor, but calmly sitting in the background, speaking softly but truly. Hadnít He said, "For this very thing I was born and for this I came into the world: to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." (John 18.37) Here He is at this salubrious dinner party of the good and the great like an outsider they wish they could ignore but canít and someone they are starting to dislike more and more. We donít know any of these people today. Their fame and name have vanished from the history. But Jesus? He is exalted with a Name that is above every name and has a seat of honor in heaven above every seat. If only they had recognized who it was that came to their dinner!

Jesus concludes: "For whosoever exalts himself shall be abased; and the one that humbles himself shall be exalted." (Luke 14.11)

From the guests, Jesus turns to address the host. If youíre going to make a dinner or a supper, donít call your friends or your family or your kinsmen or your rich neighbors. They are able to repay you in kind. They just might return your invitation and then youíll get recompensed. But when you make a feast [a public banquet], call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind; and you shall be blessed; for they cannot recompense you. For you shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14.13, 14)

Get out! Who speaks like this? Donít we catch on sooner or later to the law of reciprocity, i.e., the law of repayment? But Jesus exposes the heart that desires to act always for the greatest earthly payoff. In that, even the giving is living but a half-truth. It is giving in order to be given to, in order to receive, in order to benefit self. So itís not totally pure, honest, of good report. Jesus has the long look in mind. Oh, yes, repayment is coming. The law of reciprocity is a law and it works. But if your treasury is in heaven, you will not live for earthly repayment, seeking ease, convenience, comfort, and tranquility. You will not use your resources merely to secure in this life your own life and the life of your family, padding yourself with comfort and luxury, consoling yourself instead of also looking out for the needs of others. (cf. Philippians 2)

Jesus reminds His host that repayment is coming. If you invite those who cannot repay you in this life, you will be repaid in the resurrection of the just. See it as a blessing! True benevolence (good will), true hospitality, gives to advance the kingdom of God, not oneís personal domain and household. Jesus implies that the idea is not to invite guests because you were returning an invitation or to invite them so as to put them into your debt so you would get invited to their party. Thatís entertaining, not hospitality. To practice hospitality we must invite those who cannot repay us. In Jesusí time it wasnít considered proper to ask poor and /or handicapped people to public banquets (or women). They couldnít advance your career or your status in the community. You wouldnít get anything out of it, at least not in this life. Taking care of family and friends is taken for granted, a given. Hospitality means seeing ourselves and others as sojourners in this world, living by the grace of Godís hospitality and offering care to the stranger in need.

Now somebody was listening, because he speaks up to say, "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God." So Jesus shares a parable. The Jewish people envisioned their future kingdom as a great feast with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets as honored guests. (Luke 13.28, Isaiah 25.6) In Jesusí day, the host put the day of the feast on the invitation, but not the exact hour. When everything was ready, the host would send his servants to each of the guests that had said "yes" to the invitation to let them know everything was ready. The hour had come. The party was about to begin.

The only thing was, when everything was ready, the people who had said "yes" to the invitation started making excuses. One had to go and see some real estate he had purchased. Another had to test ten oxen he had purchased. The third said he couldnít come because he had married a wife. Billy Sunday defined an excuse as "the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie." Forget just what place youíre going to get at the banquet. First, you better be sure youíre going to be there when itís time!

These three guests excused themselves but expected to get another invitation in the future. That invitation never came. The host decides to go on with his dinner anyway. The food is all ready. Everything is ready. He wants a crowd, so he says to go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. Seems like itís consistent with those Jesus came to save. (Luke 15.1, 2; 19.10)

These people are going to be coming to the dinner? The host will accept these people? What, he wants me? Oh my, there could be people of every tribe and tongue included here, and even women and Gentiles. There could be people who couldnít afford to buy oxen or have eyes to go check out their real estate, or people who would be disqualified from being given in marriage. But they would be hungry and lonely and maybe only too happy to accept an invitation to a fabulous and free banquet.

The host not only gets other people to sit in the places of honor, but he also shuts the door so that the excuse makers have no opportunity to change their minds and come in (cf. Luke 13.22-30). In fact, the host gets angry because his call has been treated lightly and with contempt, even rejected with lame excuses.

The servant went out to bring people in, but there was still room. So he was told to go back out and compel them to come in until the house was full. Thus Jesus deals with false security and presumption. All are prospects for the gospel without distinction. Jesus opens the free gift of eternal life to all kinds of people.

Later, Paul would write:

"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither slave nor free. There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3.26-28)

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation." (Ephesians 2.13, 14)

The Pharisee and his friends didnít know it, but the Host of a great public banquet was in their midst. He, too, has invited guests and is making a great feast. When you get the invitation, the call of Christ to come, donít delay or make excuses. Do not harden your heart when it is the day of your salvation. Do not treat the call lightly. In one sense, God is saying, "Come; for all things are now ready." Jesus Christ has finished everything necessary and sufficient for salvation when He lived the life God required, died the death, and rose again from the dead to sit at the right hand of the Father. Itís not for those who deem themselves good and great, but it is for those who are worms and wise. (Psalms 14, 15, 22, 111, Proverbs 4, 9.10) Itís not for those who reject and judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life (Acts 13.46) but it is for those who see their need and respond gladly when invited to come to Godís great public banquet.

Likewise, Jesus is coming again when all things will be ready. There will be a resurrection of the just and the unjust. Will you take a long look through this life into eternity? Make room for the stranger. Guess whoís coming to dinner.

After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude,
Which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds,
And people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb,
Clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried
With a loud voice, saying,
Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
Revelation 7.9, 10

© 2002 Mary Craig Ministries, Inc.


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