Jesus’ words are hard to swallow and yet all to instructive. When you’re invited to a wedding banquet, he points out, ‘don’t chose the place of honor.’ Don’t assume that the best seat in the house is for you. How embarrassing would it be to have to be asked to move? Can you imagine? Here’s this huge, extravagant wedding--the event of the year. Bigger than Taylor Swift coming to Maine to shoot a music video. We’re talking Chelsea Clinton wedding big. You’re dressed in your tux or evening gown, after all such an occasion requires your very best clothes, you hire a car to pick you up, a close friend such as this, you must arrive in style. You arrive, there are cameras everywhere, people wanting to meet you, dying to know your relationship to the bride and the groom, people are commenting on your gown, who designed it? Gucci, Versa chi? Calvin Kline? An up and coming designer? Are the sparkles all in the right place? Why did someone decide to put a huge daisy right in the middle of the chest? Or, why did the designer choose to use red and green on a dress that would be worn to a summer wedding? I’ve been informed recently that, that is a faux paux.
As you enter the building the host asks, ‘bride or groom,’ you respond ‘personal friend of the bride...’ After all you’ve met her once, in college, when you went to different schools together. You were in the same state for a few days, when her family vacationed in Maine...once. She’s practically family!
After you’re seated, by an unassuming usher, the wedding coordinator comes up to you, “excuse me...?” “Yes...” “Your name again please...?” “Shaw... is there a problem?” “It seems as though you are not listed on the guest list, anywhere and I’m going to have to ask you to leave...” “Pardon me? Ms. Clinton will be very upset when she finds out I am being asked to leave, you see we graduated from different high schools in different years and I’m sure that she’s heard my name at least once, perhaps from that letter I wrote her father when he was president...” “No sir, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to leave...” “You don’t know what you’re doing..., Ms. Clinton and I were once campers at a summer camp, at different camps, in different states...possibly different countries...but what is a country really...” “sir?” “I bought a new bow tie especially for the occasion...” “That’s nice...I’m sure they’ll enjoy it on the other side of the metal detectors and secret service...”
This morning’s Gospel reading is intricately placed between the story of Jesus’ interaction with the crippled woman, we heard last week, in which the woman shows up to the temple physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken and Jesus gently heals her; and, Jesus’ parable of the ‘Great Banquet. In its mere placing, there is cause for pause, cause for a deep breathe and a moment of meditation on Jesus’ commands in this passage. If you show up for a banquet, take the lesser seat, lest there be someone more important, or more honored...later on he points out, when you throw a luncheon or a dinner, don’t just invite your friends...they’ll repay you, but invite the stranger. The person that may not be able to repay you...luke writes, “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...” In other words...never think you are above the person suffering the most among you.
Yesterday marked the 47th anniversary of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King jr.’ ‘I have a Dream” speech. Dr. King, best known, and closely associated with the struggle for racial justice in the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s, also advocated for economic justice--the closing of the gap between the people living in the poorest conditions among us and the people living in the richest conditions among us. Between people whose lives are dictated by the friendliness, or lack there of, of the streets, and people who own multiple homes, foreign cars, people whose lives are dictated by the New York Stock Exchange and people who have only seen the exterior of the exchange as they walk by, hoping for a meal that evening. Dr. King saw the interconnectedness of racism and classism. Dr. King had many strengths...one of which was his ability to see everyone’s contribution to ‘the cause’ as valid...not just the rich or the high profile supports of equal rights, but everyone’s. He said...”I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering.” He goes on with a charge...”Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.” ...go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”
Perhaps, one of the most important lessons, that Dr. King ratified, though, was two-fold. 1) remain humble. Remain willing to be cast off feelings of self-righteousness, and to see the humanness of others. See the need for love and compassion that others possess and, in our own need for love and compassion, our ability to give the gift. 2) See the needs of others as our needs...our need for love, forgiveness, and feelings of adequacy are shared across humanity and we need only see our selves in relation to one another as a Child of God, in order to begin to accept the gift so freely given.
We have shown up to the great feast. We have taken our place. Unlike the high profile wedding, there is no paparazzi, high profile guests, security guards, or any one person that is more important than the next. Our host knows all our failings, all our faults, and still we are called, just as we are, to receive the great gift of God’s love, in return offering nothing but our imperfect, unworthy selfs.