Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Heritage Presbyterian Church

August 28, 2022
12th Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture reading – Luke 14: 1, 7-14

In the past few months or so, with Covid beginning to fade at least a little bit at times, my wife and I have gone out to dinner with various folks on various occasions.  Sometimes we have gone to someone’s house, other times we met at a restaurant, and still other times the dinner accompanied a celebration such as Thanksgiving or a wedding reception or a memorial service.

In each case, no matter where we went, we always knew someone who would be there.  Sometimes we barely knew anyone at the dinner; sometimes we knew every single person in attendance; sometimes we were also delightfully surprised to see someone there we had not seen for a long time.

In those cases when we attended and saw someone we had not seen in a while, it was interesting to see what had changed in their lives, or how they had changed, or to hear what was going on.  It is a great opportunity to “catch up” when you can do this.  It’s especially satisfying if the one who has changed is young because often that indicates wonderful growth in their lives and wonderful stories that accompany that growth.

But there was not a single time in which we saw an old friend in which that old friend had changed that much.  Sure, they had gotten older, some had new loves or new houses or new jobs, but no one had actually changed the basic way they were.  Any surprises were minor ones.

So, it always amazes me when I read about Jesus during his travels and all the meals he attended.  Let’s remember a few:

  • Jesus spotting the short tax collector who was up in the tree, and Jesus told him, “Zacchaeus, I’m coming to your house for dinner tonight;
  • Jesus and Mary at the wedding feast at Cana;
  • Jesus eating with other tax collectors and “sinners” (how many times did he do that?)
  • Jesus sharing a meal with Pharisees and Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law where they always asked him questions and tried to trip him up or test his knowledge; or when those same Pharisees and Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law were not asking any questions…just watching Jesus very closely to see what he might do…sort of like the way a lion hides in the tall grass and watches its prey…
  • And, of course, the Last Supper that Jesus had with his friends the night before he was crucified.

In each case, various people were attending these various dinners.  In each case, we are led to believe that the people there knew Jesus was coming; I couldn’t find a single passage in which Jesus just showed up for dinner and surprised everyone with his presence.  

So now let’s imagine the topics of conversation that took place at these various dinners…

Jesus has just been baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.  He attends a dinner at someone’s home.  Perhaps the host begins the evening by getting Jesus’ attention and asking,

“So, Rabbi…I heard you were baptized in the Jordan by that John the Baptist guy…what’s that all about?”

Or the dinner at Zacchaeus’ house where Jesus was surrounded by other tax collectors and SINNERS. At that dinner, remember that Zacchaeus proclaimed that he would make good on any foul deed he had committed in the past and would pay back double anyone he had cheated.  Now imagine the other tax collectors and what they might have to say…

Or the wedding feast at Cana, when they ran out of wine and the host was about to be seriously embarrassed.  Mary told Jesus, Jesus told Mary he wasn’t ready, Mary ignored him and told the servants to do whatever he says, Jesus rolled his eyes and turned water into the best wine there is.  Now imagine the host of the feast or anyone at Jesus’ table the rest of that day.  Someone might say, “This is the best wine I’ve ever tasted.  Where do you think the host got it?”  

That question only gets asked if Jesus managed to pull this off without anyone who was sitting close noticing what he did.

And then we have Jesus sharing a meal at the home of a “prominent Pharisee” where the rest of the Pharisees were watching him closely.  And Jesus did not disappoint them…once again, he did some of his unexpected “Jesus stuff.”  For instance:

  • In the first part of this chapter, the part we didn’t read, Jesus healed the man who was suffering from abnormal swelling, but he made sure to ask the question of the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath, so that they had something to think about when he did the next thing; he healed the man quietly and only after taking him aside.
  • Jesus taught a parable about some being exalted and some being embarrassed when sitting at a table; those Pharisees always got the prominent places to sit, so it’s likely they never gave it a second thought.  The rest of the guests at that dinner may have had other thoughts when they heard the parable.
  • Finally, Jesus addressed his final lesson to the host of the meal.  He advised inviting those who had no chance of repaying the debt to the next banquet.  That could also mean either the Pharisees would not attend (and eat with THOSE PEOPLE), or they might not get any prominent seat at the table.  In doing this, the host would receive his reward at the resurrection of the righteous… and not right now.

In each case, everyone expected Jesus to be where he was, but perhaps no one – and I mean NO ONE – expected Jesus to reveal a hidden facet of his personality, or a mysterious facet of his ministry, or a gentle, forgiving facet of the love of God that he always carried with him in his heart.

In other words, it seems to me that people were constantly and consistently surprised by Jesus.  They knew he was unusual perhaps even unique.  They knew he was special.  They knew he was a great teacher – even his enemies recognized that.  

But they were surprised by Jesus…again and again and again.

It is easy to miss this because we are on the outside looking in at what Jesus was doing.  None of us has first-hand experience of being with Jesus and observing for ourselves what occurred.  None of us has any texts to read and explore except for the four Gospels – some of which tell conflicting accounts.  

But if you consider basic human nature, I’ll bet Jesus was talked about long after those various dinner parties ended, and everyone went back home.  

In fact, I’ll bet Jesus was a topic of conversation for years after those people encountered him over dinner.

He was the Lord.  He was the Son of God come to earth.  That is what we are lucky enough and blessed enough to see and know when we read the Gospel stories.  We know the secret that the people in those stories don’t really get the way we do.  We know the beginning, the middle, and we even know the end – even though it hasn’t happened yet.

The people of Jesus’ day were constantly surprised by him.  That statement also includes those who were closest to him.

But none of the knowledge we have about Jesus is going to do us any good unless and until we can also stop being surprised when Jesus shows up in our lives.

A sudden tragedy occurs.  Then everything works out and the situation returns to normal.  Along the way, did we invite Jesus into the situation?  Or did he just show up?

We fall into a pattern of behavior that is destructive and we feel powerless to do anything about it.  We try and try, but we can’t get control.  Did we welcome Jesus to this particular table because we want him to truly be there – or because we have tried everything else, and we are out of options?

We see something bad going on at a table we attend and wonder if we should get involved.  So much EASIER to just keep going and look away.  So much riskier to open our mouths and risk looking foolish.  You can almost see the face in Jesus in that scene: do you still turn away and ignore that invitation?

You make plans for your future, perhaps even terrific plans that will not only help you but could also help others.  It all seems so wonderful in your imagination…it’s all so very perfect.  But while you were busy making all your wonderful plans, did you invite Jesus to come and be at that table during your planning?  Or was your plan to surprise him later?

Friends, each and every time we come together to worship, it means we are all in this together as a family.  That means we welcome Jesus at all times, as well as all others.  That means we are an inviting, welcoming community, but not one that excludes anyone.  That means we recognize that everyone we meet – whether or not they are believers– is welcome at the same table that beckons us.

Today, we will join together after our worship service is done and share a meal and some fellowship together.  

Next Sunday, we will be serving Communion from the Lord’s table.  

Who is welcome? 

Exactly who is welcome?  

We all know the theoretical answer to that question…

but do we mean it? 

Everyone is welcome at the table when Jesus is there.

And Jesus should always be welcomed at any table we set.