Have you ever noticed that when we are enjoying our lives, we often to refer to ourselves as blessed? And we rarely refer to ourselves as blessed when we are struggling or in conflict. Yet in Luke, Jesus says, Blessed are you who are poor, who are sad, who are mistreated or ill thought of. Alas for you who have had your time of happiness, who are well fed, who have status and a good reputation. (6:20-26) The socially disadvantaged are the invisible ghosts of any socio-economic system. They drift through our towns and cities virtually unnoticed, and are spoken of only in terms of shame or pity. By contrast, every magazine, news page, medium of publicity is focussed on the wealthy and famous. We record their lives and seek their autographs. They become icons for our social worship.
In Luke 14:7-14, we are invited to consider where we recognize our blessedness, where we seek status. The setting is the formal dinner party and it begins clearly as a kind of corporate dinner party. Consider the kinds of parties we host. The CEO invites the regional representatives. Who sits on either side of the president of the company? The janitor, his/her children’s nanny? Or a wedding party: Who sits at the head table? Drunken Uncle Horace? Aging and senile Great Aunt Harriet? We could go on and on with various examples of status at formal social engagements.
Initially in the Luke passage, there seems to be a common sense suggestion about how to gain status: ”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.”
But what is really being noted here has to do with people’s own social anxiety. In the community of the blessed, it just does not matter where you sit. Any dinner companion is the right companion. The guests who come are the right guests. No one is honoured more than another, because each one has a story, each one brings a gift, each one has a broken heart. You might want to listen to the Amanda Marshall song, “Everybody’s Got a Story” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kZ-gG4r0zI) which is about resistance to being objectified.
At the banquet of the Lamb, it will be impossible to tell age, gender, or status, because we will be revealed just as people. So this parable is about how social categories separate us from one another. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, then one of our lifetime struggles will be to see each person as we would like to be seen, not without flaws, but lovable anyway, not without a history, but as a living lesson on life. We are not called to pity or to the critique of others, but to healing, to hope, to solidarity in the family picture that is called humanity.