Monday, July 28, 2008

An interesting tension in Jesus' hospitality

Much is made these days of themes of hospitality and welcome in the ministry of Jesus. Attention is being given to all the meals Jesus participated in. Behind moves towards an 'open table' at communion, where, for example, the unbaptised are welcome, lies the Feeding of the Five Thousand with its eucharistic structure (took bread, gave thanks, broke it, distributed it). No one was turn away from that (eucharistic) meal, so why should any be turned away from ours ... and, anyway, Jesus did not eject Judas from the Last Supper, or, for that matter, Peter.

Here I do not want to tackle the 'open table' issue directly, nor to attempt to solve it by inference. But I have been thinking about Luke 14, and see there an interesting tension in the hospitality of Jesus.

This chapter is full of meals. Jesus dines one Sabbath with a 'ruler who belonged to the Pharisees'. The dinner group includes 'Pharisees and lawyers'. When he heals someone and sees their querying eyes, he goes onto tell some parables about hospitality. P1: taking a humble seat at a marriage feast (14:7-11). P2: when giving a dinner or banquet do not invite your peers but invite the poor and their peers, the maimed, lame, and blind (14:12-14). P3: the story of a great banquet in which the guests excused themselves and were replaced at the feast by the inclusion of the poor, maimed, blind, and lame (14:16-24). Its not hard to see the interconnections between these parables. Together they build a picture of the coming great feast of God's kingdom: if you wish to be at that feast, humble yourself, live lives now which model God's hospitality, accept rather than turn down God's invitation.

Its also not difficult to see the theme of 'open table' weaving through these stories: God's heavenly feast is open to all; your feasts ought to be open beyond your circle of friends and peers.

Yet we must read on, to take in the whole chapter (which is a distinct section within Luke's Travel Narrative). In 14:25-35 Jesus turns to 'the great multitude' which is following him at this point, and lays down 'the law' about discipleship: 'If any one comes to me and does not hate ... whoever does not bear his own cross ... so therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple ... He who has ears to hear let him hear.'

Okay, its Luke who puts the chapter together, but I assume he is faithful to Jesus' own theology! Jesus appears to be teaching (1) the table at God's heavenly feast (i.e. the kingdom of God) is open to all (rich and poor, able and disabled, exalted and humble); but (2) those at God's table will have committed themselves unconditionally and sacrificially to Jesus. There is a tension between the openness and inclusiveness of God's invitation and the narrowness and exclusiveness of the way of Jesus.

Zooming forwards to our day, it could be that our talk of 'open table' and 'inclusive church' is an incomplete expression of the teaching of Jesus. The complete expression is invitation to follow Jesus in costly discipleship: the invitation is open and inclusive of all, but acceptance of the invitation which leads to participation in the great feast of heaven is costly: not all will take it up.

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