OF BEING HOSPITABLE
Luke 14 : 1 & 7 – 14
When Jesus was speaking about choosing a lowly place to sit at a dinner party, or inviting poor and disabled people, he was speaking about the kind of humility in order to welcome others. He is suggesting that we should be humble in order to be hospitable.
You must remember when you had not done your homework, you sat in the back of the classroom. You were not really humble, you sat in a back seat to protect yourself. It is basically self-interest that made you looks like you were humble.
Jesus said that his followers must be hospitable and welcoming people, people who accept others despite their difference. This is why Jesus suggested taking a less favoured place at the dinner party, so that the late comers may find a good place. At a pot luck dinner, hospitable people would give others places ahead of the queue and make a mental measurement of the main course to make sure that everybody gets a helping.
The country Lesotho in Africa, where I worked for eight years, was a very poor country. Land was too poor to grow enough food to feed its own people. There were too few industries and they could only employ a fraction of able bodied people. The major export item was human resources. People went to South Africa as migrant labourers. Every now and then, a crop failed and people did not have enough food. Even then, however, there were very few instances of death by starvation. It was because the notion of sharing was a very important part of their culture. People knew that, if they lost job or their crop failed, they could go back to their home villages. The community would look after them.
One of my students said to me that she was told by her mother to always leave a small portion of meal on her plate uneaten, no matter how little food she had or how hungry she was. At the end of the meal, the mother gathered up the left over food, in case a visitor who may arrived unannounced hungry. It was only when people moved to the cities, that they lost this custom. The city life was too impersonal for people to continue to share.
After the lesson about where to sit at a dinner party, Jesus spoke about the choice of people we sit with at the dinner table. Muriel and I both love to cook. So the challenging part of planning a dinner party is not so much the decision about what to serve or who should cook, but the question of whom to invite. Naturally, we want to invite people we like. Even if we don”t know them well, we at least try to guess if we would be able to have a good time with them. And the next difficult question is, the combination of people to invite. The last thing we want is to bring together a group of people who don”t get along. That would be awkward.
This is why the second part of Jesus” teaching about dinner guests seems difficult. Jesus suggested we invite the people we normally do not think of inviting. He has nothing against inviting people we like. I don”t think he was rejecting our favourite people. He is saying that in addition to our favourite people, we should invite people we normally do not think of inviting. Especially those who are not in a position to return the favour. Eating with people we like is easy, but with people we don”t know too much is, at least, a challenge and a step forward in the lessen in loving. You extended hospitality to me, when I first came to you as a total stranger. Now after only a few months, when I come back from vacation, I feel like coming home. You showed me the art of hospitality.
We learn to love better by trying to love the unknown and the unlovable. A new born baby who deprives you of your sleep is the first challenge of love for many fathers. Most of us learn that lesson in love. We can learn the art of loving. We just promised this morning to take into our care two new members of the community. You know their parents, but you don”t know the babies. Are you ready to love them no matter how they turn out? It can be a challenge. You never know: by extending hospitality to the unknown and perhaps unlovable, you may be welcoming Jesus into your life, just as the Cobbler Martin did.