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Sunday, 28 August 2016

God Hates Fondues

He told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, 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 honoured 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 neighbours, 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.’ (Luke 14:1,7-14)
There are people who say "Jesus says this" or "Jesus didn't say that" to back up their points.  Because taking just one gobbet of scripture out of context always helps, doesn't it? If you want to know what to do - read the Bible. Just take the simple sense and go with it.

But I don't often hear it applied literally to this passage. Yep, the reading where Jesus tells you not to invite your own relatives to dinner.

Some may think this is an absolute godsend. The idea of going "Oh, yeah, I'd love to invite you and Dave and your six lovely kids round - but I am specifically forbidden from doing so by Jesus." Peace, perfect peace.

But where's the correct response from those you'd expect to hear it from? You don't hear people invited to tea with the vicar say, "O thanks. But can you invite a poor person instead?" We don't get the weekly invite to Sunday dinner from a family member and send a passing stranger with a limp round to their house in our place.

You don't see Westboro Baptist Church picketing suburban front rooms with signs saying "God hates fondues."

I don't go many dinner parties. So I don't know if there is still the strict etiquette where people had to sit in the right place. Obviously I sit at the centre of High Table in the Beaker dining room - but that's just so I can see what's going on. And sure, Charlii sits to my right - with Keith just opposite - but that's because they're family. And sure, Daphne and Hnaef are the other side - but they're friends. It's all very rational. And obviously Jesus must have been using exaggerated speech. Because look who were at the Last Supper. His friends.

But what is our place in the world? How do we measure it? Is it by the niceness of our clothes? The company we keep? The size of our office? Are we doing a good  - wanting to do the best we can using the gifts God has given us - or are we working out whether we are 8th or 9th in succession to the key to the Executive drinks cupboard?

When, in short, we look at the whole of God's humanity - where do we see our place in it? There's a website you can use to find out by one measure. You can go and look up where you stand if you're just thinking in terms of money. Jeremy Corbyn is in the top 0.05% of rich people in the world! How come he is so high up when I only come in the top 5%, I ask my tax advisor. And we both agree that it's mystery all.

That website is not meant to make you feel good. It turns out you're meant to feel humble - how can I, even adjusted for excessive costs on business wear and compensation for precious losses, be richer than 95% of the world? What makes me so special? Do I think I'm better than 19 out of 20 people or am I lucky or - as an evangelist with a Porsche might say - blessed?

Do I think being me, makes me special - as if I'm moving up the table in God's seating arrangement - or will be happy to take the bottom place? Knowing that, if God is the fair judge and forgiving parent that God is - I'll end up with a seat at the heavenly banquet, and the  knowledge that I'm God's daughter, and the sight of God's face forever.

This seating arrangement stuff is weirdly important, of course. Because if we're to believe the images, heaven is a place of marbled surfaces, where we will be able to drink wine, and eat, all day. Which makes it sound scarily like Wetherspoons, but without the fruit machines. I guess the Methodists got in first and banned them. And imagine if you were sat next to a pub bore who kept telling you they should never have built the Arndale in the 70s, for all eternity. You need a decent place at that table.

There is another sort-of seating arrangement story in the Gospels. Two disciples wanted to be at Jesus's right and left hand when he sat on his throne. He told them, that's someone else's job to decide. And when he was on that throne in his glory, instead there were two robbers and rebels.

That's Jesus putting the seating arrangements in context. That's Jesus putting our social status to death. That's Jesus telling us who God thinks is important.

So if you're wanting to think about the people God puts up the list in the heavenly seating arrangement - the food bank box is just behind the tea light stand. The food banks themselves are in Bedford, Dunstable and Milton Keynes. The Big Issue Just Giving page for Not Greenbelt 2016 is here. And your dinner table is - well, you know where that is.

I wonder if Jesus ever got invited back to that house for dinner.

I wonder if he cared.

But I know I'll be glad to get even the bottom seat of that table, with the heavenly crumbs. Because even that will be the happiest meal ever.

1 comment :

  1. Yes, well, Jesus said some pretty tough things about the family one way or another (Luke 14.26 and Matthew 12.48 for example). Ever since, the Fr Lombardis of the various Christian denominations have come up with enough "what he really meant was...." about his uncompromising statements (not only those on the family) to fill a fifth Gospel, if not an alternative Testament.

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