Table Manners

by Sean Foster on September 1, 2013

Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” A-men

Earlier this week an e-mail was shared with me about the first meal eaten on the moon.

According to the October edition of Guideposts magazine, the first meal eaten on the moon was Holy Communion. Isn’t that a fascinating piece of trivia?

The story goes that Buzz Aldrin, an ordained elder in a Presbyterian Church in Texas, and knowing that he was going to travel to the moon, he wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. And so Buzz asked his pastor to help him. His minister consecrated a wafer, and small vial of communion wine and Buzz took them with him to the surface of the moon.

When landed on the moon, they were only on the surface a few minutes when Aldrin radioed earth and made the following public statement:
This is the LM (Lunar Module) pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever, and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.

Aldrin then read from John’s Gospel: I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.

Aldrin then took the vile of wine, poured it into the cup he brought with him. And then ate the wafer and drank the wine. True story. In fact, HBO has made a movie of it entitled: From the Earth to the Moon.

Now, I think that’s pretty cool. And of course to think that some of the first words that were spoken on the moon where the words of Jesus.

I shared this story with you because, one, we are celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion today, but two, in our lesson that Tom read to us from Luke’s Gospel, we are talking about meals.

Our lesson begins by telling us that Jesus has been invited by a prominent Pharisee to a dinner with the elite in town. This was clearly the dinner of the year.
• Only the wealthiest,
• only the most important,
• only the most powerful,
• only the most influential of the town
were invited to this very important dinner. And I’m really not sure how Jesus would have received an invitation. Jesus was despised by the elite and powerful. He was a thorn in the side of the Pharisees, and yet, here is Jesus at the most important meal of the year.

I have made some assumptions in my own mind as to how it might of happened. It might have happened something like this:

Jacob, who has been invited to this dinner you’re hosting Friday night?

Mordecai, don’t worry, you know all the people who will be there.

Well, the reason I ask Jacob, is because I have been thinking that maybe you should invite that one they call Jesus, who has that small group of followers.

Mordecai, you can’t be serious! Jesus is hardly a man of our class and pedigree. Jesus is only a passing fad.

No, I’m quite serious Jacob. This would give us a chance to observe him. Even, intimidate him. Let’s take the opportunity to impress upon him how powerful we can be.

You might have a good idea Mordecai. Yes, I think I will invite Jesus – you start and let the others know.

You see, there is little doubt in my mind that there was some sort of agenda behind having Jesus at this meal. Note verse one of our reading today: Jesus was being carefully watched at this meal.

Little did they know that Jesus would end up healing a man at the dinner… on the Sabbath. And not only that, but then Jesus would lecture them.

In our reading today, the Lectionary has left out five verses where a man with dropsy is healed by Jesus at the dinner. And I suppose I can understand why the lectionary chose to leave out the healing story, because we just dealt with a very similar healing story last week.

You may remember from last week that Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, and right in the middle of his teaching, Jesus heals a woman who had been crippled for 18 long years. On the Sabbath day, he heals her. Jesus breaks Sabbath law. So, I can understand why the lectionary skips over the healing story for today.

But the healing story in the verses that are left out really set the stage. I mean, it is through the healing that Jesus gains control of the people’s attention, who are in attendance at this dinner. The healing of the man with dropsy is how Jesus moves the attention of the people attending the meal to himself, so that he can teach. I mean, let’s face it, Jesus is probably thinking – they want to observe me, they want to know what I’m up to, I will show them and tell them.

As you read this text, you need to keep in mind how formal and how important this meal was. It was likely the most important social event of the year.

I mean, try to picture this dinner in your mind. The servants indicate to the host that dinner is ready to be served. The Pharisee who hosts the meal has prepared a long, elaborate introduction welcoming his guests. Then, in a great prayer of thanks, forgetting nothing in his very long prayer.

The meal begins with the first course with several yet to come. The wine is flowing, no one ever sees the bottom of their cup because the servants come around topping up everyone’s wine.

As Luke indicates, there is a man with dropsy at the meal. Now dropsy was a disease where people accumulated fluid in their body, which usually lead to congestive heart failure. But in the middle of the meal, Jesus poses a question for debate: Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? And no one answers the question, and the room becomes quiet.

• You can’t be serious?
• No good Jew would even dare to pose such a question.
• Healing is work!

No one needs to answer the question because everyone knows the answer.

But now the attention is on Jesus.

Feel the tension that now exists at this dinner. In fact, as I imagine it in my own mind, the dinner has now stopped. No one is eating. They are waiting to see what happens next. And so, Jesus goes to the man and heals the man of his dropsy.

Luke tells us that nothing is said. Nothing! But you can feel the tension that exists in this room.

Now my best guess for the reason of why no one has said anything is because no one wants to speak or act and expose the anger that they have towards Jesus. Remember this is the Sabbath day. No one wants to sin. And the last thing the host wants is for a fight to occur in the middle of his dinner.

But Jesus doesn’t stop here, as we get into our lesson that Tom read to us, Jesus now begins to lecture. The words cut and bite.

Jesus say’s to them: When someone invites you to a wedding feast (another formal meal), do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have also been invited. At this moment, everyone sitting around the host has been shamed. You can imagine how uncomfortable some of them now feel. Some of them shift in their seats.

Jesus continues, Just imagine if something like that happened.

You arrive at the wedding feast and take a seat of prominence, only to have the host come and ask you to sit somewhere else, because someone more distinguished, someone more important has arrived.

Then Jesus says, humiliated, you will take the least important place. I mean, let’s face it, by now all the good seats are gone, you’re stuck in the corner by the washroom.

Jesus says, Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and whosoever humbles themselves, they will be exalted.

Now, you would think, Okay Jesus, you have said enough. Everyone get’s it. But now Jesus addresses the host directly.

When you give a dinner …
• Don’t invite your friends
• Don’t invite your brothers
• Don’t invite your relatives
• Don’t invite your rich neighbors
And as Jesus rhymes off each group he looks at them in the dinning hall where they are eating.

We all know that when you do that, you’re looking to get repaid. You’re looking to get an invitation in return. You want to be wined and dined and treated as a guest of honor in return. Don’t do that!

Like always, Jesus turns the situation right on it’s head. Jesus says:
When you host a dinner,
• invite the poor
• invite the crippled
• invite the lame
• invite the blind
And you, will, be, blessed.

Now you’re right, Jesus continues, the poor, crippled, lame and blind, they won’t be able to repay you. But know this, God sees what you have done. Know that you will receive your reward in heaven. Know that you will be repaid at the Resurrection of the righteous.

Now the words of the prophets are ringing in the ears of those who are at this meal. In particular the words of the minor prophets. I mean, this was the constant refrain of the minor prophets to look after the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, those who have nothing, those who are neglected by society.

This is how God wants us to live. God has blessed us with riches, intelligence. He has blessed us with fine homes and good food. God wants us to share those blessings, so that those blessings can become blessings to others. And God does not miss. God does not forget. We will be rewarded for the good that we do to others.

Whoever humbles themselves will be exalted. If I was to say it, I might say it this way: It’s not about us!

And Jesus is our example.
• The King of kings,
• God’s Son
• God of God
And yet Jesus humbled himself. He came not to be served, but to serve.

And who did Jesus spend time with? Not the rich, powerful and influential. Jesus spent his time here on earth with sinners, tax-collectors, prostitutes, and the poor of this world.

Jesus came to free us of sin.
• To free us from death.
• To heal us.
• To change us.
• To usher in the kingdom of God.
and to grow us into the potential that he sees in us.

Today we come to this table, where Jesus is the host.

And as we eat and drink, we remember the Love, the Grace, and the Mercy that Jesus has lavished on us. And he does so, so that we can then share His Grace, His Love and Mercy with all that we know and see.

It is at his table that we come to eat, drink and remember that Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches. We come to remember that apart from Christ, we can do nothing.

A-men.

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