Our God given dignity makes us all equal in the eyes of God no matter what social order we may seek to enforce. Whenever we decide on who is more or less important (such as seating arrangements at a meal or the final banquet Luke 14:1, 7-14) we are making visible our judgements. Jesus often takes our assumptions and assessments and turns them upside down and inside out. You would think we would learn not to be so insistent on who can sit where and who can eat with whom but we seem just to recycle our prejudices from one scenario to another, myself included. Certainly the church seems to be very distracted at this moment in history with declaring who is in and who is out. I cannot help but imagine we have got it very wrong.
The readings this week seem to suggest in various ways that relationships are not so much hierarchical but that we are encouraged to live in mutuality with one another. Beginning with our relationship with God. The prophet Jeremiah (2:1-13) reminds the people of God in the language of a marriage covenant of their once faithfulness and now neglect and failure to relate to God in any real way. While mutuality is a curious relationship concept when we consider how we relate to the divine, given that we are so small and God so great, it is clear from the words of the prophet that God wants real connection, wants to give living water.
Mutual love is certainly what the letter to the Hebrews (13:1-8, 15-16) is referring to. A painful reminder of how poorly we have behaved in some parts of the church in recent times with several denominations splitting along lines of inclusivity and exclusivity (including my own beloved Anglican Church). Recently most of our Bishops met to participate in the great gathering in Lambeth, which is ironically one of the instruments of unity, only for some to decide not to eat with others because of theological differences?! The table of God’s hospitality to us was the location of division – one could not write such tragi-comedy. We are challenged to show hospitality to the other and in doing so we may just glimpse messages from the divine. Hospitality is not just for the sake of the other but also potentially life giving for us.
And in the gospel story from Luke we have Jesus invited to a meal in the home of a Pharisee. The order of seating would have indicated first century religious societies measure of who was acceptable and out of those who was most important. Jesus offers some confronting feedback to both the invited and those hosting which cuts across those social and religious divides and ways of valuing one person over another.
For us in our time and circumstances I think we can read that when we invite Jesus to a meal, or into our lives, he is going to notice who we sat next to whom, or where we have presumed to sit, and have some subversive suggestions about overturning our judgments and assessments of others. Not simply that our pecking order is not the same as God’s but that God does not have a hierarchy of importance in the way we do. Strangely God does not discriminate on the basis of religious rightness anymore than on the basis of culture or gender and probably not on all the other criteria we tend to make judgements on.
Why? Do we imagine that God is politically correct and just doesn’t want to be seen to have favourites? Or is it more that God as creator has imbued every aspect of creation with the spark of the divine and sees only the preciousness rather than the performance of each of us? Is it also that the creation is one interconnected amazing web of being and therefore it is impossible to love one corner of the creation and not another? And/or is that God is committed to faithful mutual love even when we are not and therefore cannot, will not, abandon us even when we abandon God, our neighbour and our selves?
I do not presume to know the mind of God but I do know that I belong to the whole in a way that is inconvenient but essential to my being; that is messy but filled with glorious hope; is provocative but also necessary to my full humanity. Often I would prefer not to have spend time with those whose theology and values are such an anathema to me. But I also know that without those who are different I am just shouting in an echo chamber, looking at my own flawed reflection. I need to be open to the divine spark in the other – open eyes and open ears and open heart – to see and hear and care about what I cannot know for myself. It is not simply that it is the polite and loving thing to do, to dig deep and provide hospitality to the inconveniently different other, it is essential to me because I am only a part of the whole. Divided we may be calmer and enjoy the rest from the relentless critique of who and what we are but in some ways we shall all be diminished.
I do pray that we who have been questioned and told there was no room at the table for us may retain the humility of the marginalised, the thirst for the living water, the hunger for inclusion and belonging and not simply close the door behind us the moment we are invited in. We who follow Jesus should never forget we follow one who was judged and ultimately excluded for who he ate with and what he offered for food and drink. We therefore also must keep opening the circle until all of creation and all souls belong and know they belong.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come and turn our timid gatherings into banquets of healing and joy.