The Absent, Matter – September 1, 2019

Who do we need to invite?

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. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “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; and 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. But 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. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He 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. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Reflection: Jesus observantly watches the invited guests take their places at a sabbath meal hosted by a leader of the Pharisees. A dinner with distinguished guests functioned as more than sharing in a common meal. Sabbath dinners gave opportunity for a guest of honor, in this case Jesus, to discuss a topic of interest followed by dialogue about the presentation. Those nearest to the speaker were seated in honored positions which allowed them to better see and hear the speaker than those seated or standing behind them.

Jesus notices the guests settling into their seating arrangements. It is likely that those with a higher opinion of their social status challenged and elbowed away from the best seats others they viewed as socially inferior. Jesus notices something is amiss. Before he begins teaching, he tells the gathered a parable, a story that illustrates a spiritual lesson. In the story, people who seat themselves in places of honor are humiliated in public when re-assigned by the host to lower places and people at the lower places are honored by the invitation to take the higher places. The spiritual lesson is that those that seek to live in harmony and right relation with God will concern themselves with those who are absent from the liberating, Passover table of God.

When we are invited to partake of the elements of Holy Communion at a United Methodist Church, the presiding celebrant invites those gathered to receive the bread and cup by proclaiming, “This is not the table of the United Methodist Church. This is the table of our Lord Jesus Christ and you are welcome.” Christ is the guest of honor, inviting all that repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with God and one another to come and partake of God’s spiritual food and love without regard to age, ethnicity, gender, or language.

Through the partaking of the Holy Mystery of Communion, Christ calls us to live in peace with God and one another through acts of evangelism, justice, and unity. First, we are called to be hospitable guides consciously identifying and seeking out the absent who feel unworthy, the poor, those who are not yet Christ followers, the victims of prejudice, and others who are oppressed or neglected, and invite them to become part of the body of Christ. Secondly, as we gratefully receive God’s abundant grace, we are called to accept fully our responsibility and accountability for renewal of our broken and contentious world and the coming of the realm of God. And third, as the sacrament of Holy Communion expresses our oneness in the body of Christ, we are called to anticipate Jesus’ invitation to feast at the heavenly banquet and strive for the visible unity of the church through the work of the Holy Spirit in response to Jesus’ prayer that “they may all be one” (John 17:21).

As we partake of Holy Communion on this first Sunday of the month, may Christ’s Spirit send us out into the world to live lovingly and justly as his servants by conscientiously seeking the absent, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel” (BOD, ¶ 122).

Prayer: Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery of Communion and Table Fellowship in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your Spirit, to give ourselves for others, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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