By Sarah Brubaker, ACT:S National Team
“Oh, it’s ok; I don’t need a fork. I can use chopsticks.” Famous last words. My first bite of food hit the kitchen floor.
It was the first meal on the first day of visiting my friend in Taiwan, and I didn’t need to be fluent in Mandarin to know what her parents were thinking. Great start, Sarah. Fortunately, they were extremely gracious hosts and trusted me with chopsticks again, even though I trusted myself a little less. It was an honor to be their guest, and though it was obvious that I was out of place, they treated me as if I belonged.
It’s this experience that changed the way I look at the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s what happens:
A man plans a great banquet and invites many guests. But when the servant goes to summon the guests to the meal on the day of the event, every single guest declines with a flimsy excuse. At the time and in the culture that this story takes place, it was incredibly rude for a guest to turn down an invite when they were summoned. So the fact that every single guest declined indicates that this was probably an organized shaming of the host. Everyone was in on it.
Angered by his guests’ rejection, the host tells the servants to invite in the poor, crippled blind, and lame, the vagrants and outcasts from the edge of town. He fills his house with these new guests, and the story ends with the declaration “Not one of the guests I first invited will get even a bite of my food!”
Until recently, my interpretation of this parable was “when the master’s friends couldn’t come, he invited in the poor. How nice.” I’m not so sure. The guests tried to shame this man, and in anger he brought in everyone they would barely look at, much less consider dining with. Was this kindness, or a shaming in return? Furthermore, if I was one of the new guests who is invited in to this angry affair, would I feel honored or a little bit used? Or would I just be thankful for the food?
This parable is pretty uncomfortable, partially because I’m not always sure which guest I would be, and partially because I can’t read the master’s motive. When learning from this parable, it’s generally accepted that the master and host represents God. So if God is throwing a banquet, am I in the group that has rejected Him and makes excuses for why I can’t come, or am I a beggar who has just been seated in a place of honor?
But that makes me wonder: if God has set the table and opened the doors, does it matter which group of guests I’m in as long as I actually accept the invitation? The master wanted his house full, and clearly there was enough space for everyone—there weren’t enough crippled, blind, or lame guests in town to fill the house, so the servant had to go out to the back roads and alleys for the vagabonds and outcasts. He was prepared to generously feed and enjoy the company of his guests.
That was part of what made me so grateful for my hosts in Taiwan—I wasn’t one of their usual house guests, but they still made me welcome. I was a stranger, but because of my friendship with their daughter, they took me in and shared their home—and many fabulous meals—with me. I was a cultural misfit, and they were glad to have me, if I would accept and receive their hospitality.
So in reflecting on this parable of the banquet, I found myself asking: am I at the table? Am I choosing to be a part of this?
If so, I need to recognize that there is something incredibly equalizing that has happened around this table. The master has chosen to serve the poor and outcast; he has chosen humility. And the guests have been honored and given a feast simply for their presence. At this meal, there is an equality that comes naturally through the shared experience, through the serving and the receiving.
As a person who has claimed to love justice, maybe I need to look to the banquet table as my example. Instead of worrying so much about the “right” way to do everything, what if justice looked more like sitting down and serving a meal in my open home? It could be completely ordinary, and it could be completely revolutionary.
This year at Urbana 12, we’ll be learning more about what it looks like to come to the table together. To prepare, InterVarsity and ACT:S are asking you to have a meal with someone from a different faith, culture, or way of life and post a photo of the meal. All of the entries will then be part of an art installation at Urbana to show what God is doing through ordinary moments all over the world.