Friday, 30 August 2013

A feast of the poor and the lame

Jesus' parable this Sunday (Luke 14.7014) is about seating plans. One could, I suppose, take his command quite literally and throw parties at your house for the very poor, though to do so might seem rather Victorian, in the 'let them have soap' sort of sense, and I doubt whether many would want to come along. But this is, after all, a parable: so perhaps we can find a wider meaning.

First, it obviously says something about the pecking order, and our own perceptions of where we belong in it. Put yourself at the bottom so you won't be embarrassed when someone else puts you where you belong - sound advice, no doubt. But I think we need to go deeper, and question the whole nature of this order. What does it mean, and frankly, what does it matter where I belong in it?

Secondly, it says something about choice. A good host spends time deciding who should sit where: who will get on with whom, who really won't, who shall we land with the notorious bore? Such considerations are surely necessary at any normal dinner party. But Jesus is not just talking about a dinner party. He's drawing attention to our wider tendencies to pick and choose our company, to avoid those who tire us or try us, to form comfortable cliques and shun the outsider.

So, third, this necessarily has implications for us as a church and, indeed, the Church. It is no coincidence that Jesus chooses the context of a feast to make his point. The feast at which absolutely all are called to, without qualification (as Fr Michael preached last week), is the heavenly feast and its prefigurement in the Eucharist, the eternal feast which the Church exists to perpetuate.
Clique churches - churches for enthusiasts of one particular thing, whether it's skateboarding (yes, such churches exist), a specific genre of music, a certain kind of person, or a prized liturgical formula - are quite contrary to the spirit of the Gospel. We become private interest groups at our peril.

Let us renew our efforts to welcome as many and varied people to our table as we can. Perhaps before we chat to our friends after Mass this Sunday, we might each find someone new to talk to? That would be a start.

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