Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Jesus' Idea of a Church Dinner

Nearly every weekend for six years, church groups have passed out free biscuits and coffee to the homeless at Moore Square in downtown Raleigh, led by an organization called, “Love Wins.”

On Saturday, August 24, when the volunteers showed up to pass out the biscuits and coffee, police officers met them on the side walk and threatened to arrest them if they passed out the food. They cited a city ordinance that banned food distribution in the park. Because of that ordinance, the Love Wins volunteers had always set up on the sidewalk along the edge of the park.

Soup kitchens do not operate in the county or city on the weekends, and so the Love Wins breakfast is one of the only ways the homeless can have a free, warm breakfast on the weekends. More than 70 people had already lined up for the free breakfast when the police issued the threat.

Jerry Jones, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, has noted that some cities are trying to cut off homeless people’s source of food in hopes of forcing them out of downtown areas. Apparently that’s what Raleigh was trying to do.

What a contrast with the mission of Jesus and his followers. According to Luke’s portrait of Jesus, on one occasion when Jesus is dining in the home of a religious leader on the Sabbath, he observes how guests are jockeying for position to occupy places of honor.

Jesus instructs them to take the lowest seats, not the highest, and then he says (cutting against the grain of all conventional wisdom and norms): “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors . . . invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:12–13). Jesus redefines our understanding of hospitality, to say the least.

Liberation theologians call this Jesus’ preferential option for the poor. The very fact that Jesus is in the home of a Pharisee when he says this shows that Jesus is not exclusive of anyone.  Jesus does not reject or condemn the religious and political elite, though he certainly does not pander to or comply with or ignore and let stand their abuse and misuse of power, position, and possessions.  

However, it is also clear that the focus of his ministry is with regard to the down-and-out and downtrodden, the poor and impoverished, the diseased and demonized (see Luke 4:18–19).

I wonder what would happen if we (I am rebuking myself first of all) actually obeyed this teaching? What if we actually decided to be collaborators with Jesus in this divine conspiracy against normalcy? What havoc would it wreck on our current church budgets? How would it affect our investment of talent and time? And what would it do to our church potluck suppers?  

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