Next week, my wife and I will be attending a wedding for a distant relative. The reception is in a five star restaurant and I am not allowed to wear my jeans. As is the custom, the bride and her wedding planner are spending long hours planning the seating chart. Determining who sits with who and how far they are from the happy couple is an intricate art, full of inviolate rules and their exceptions. Imagine the chaos, if the couple decided to practice the Gospel lesson (which I hope they hear this Sunday), “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:7-14).
I hope the couple doesn’t just think that Jesus is being ironic. If he crashed their wedding, as he once did the one in Cana of Galilee (Yes, he was invited. No, he didn’t make his disciples dress appropriately), then I think he would require them to make a ‘Christian’ seating chart. This is one where a man has to sit with his ex-wife, where the poor sit cheek to jowl with the rich, and where you may be required to watch over someone else’s unruly child. Further, Jesus might have them un-invite the guests that the couple knows are bringing the most expensive gifts on the registry, and fill those chairs with the homeless. Jesus understood formal meals for what they are. They are the place where we put on display our real social ethics. That is why every public meal should illustrate the values of the kingdom of God.
This passage is really about social class, rather than banquets. I have come to believe that Jesus wants us to live as children of his kingdom, unwilling to participate in the distinctions of class, race, sexual orientation, or political creed. It will take a great deal of discipline for us to become Jesus-like in our relationships. When we walk into a room of people, are we prepared to enter into conversation with the person whose life experience is totally foreign from our own? Will we be patient with the mentally challenged? When we buy our clothes, do we purchase them with an eye to having the right label, climbing the success ladder, and distinguishing ourselves as people with class? Does our conscience frequently remind us that conspicuous consumption is bad for the ecology and that substandard wages and factory conditions may lie behind our favorite brands?
The difficult thing about the kingdom of God, is not the particular actions Jesus calls us to do. It is the persistent goal of his words. He wants to make us as perfect in love as he is. He wants us to accept others where they are and do what we can to help them become what they are meant to become. He wants us to live justly and to walk with humility. You can’t scramble that omelet without breaking a few social mores.