I don’t often write a reflection on the daily readings, but it’s been such a long time since I’ve written any reflections, today’s Gospel passage from Luke compels me. I always know it’s my higher power at work in me when I have no good excuse to say no.
Which is kind of what the Gospel is about. Luke 14:15-24.
Jesus was at a dinner party (presumably with some pretty well-to-do folks) and told a parable. A man invited his friends to dinner, but all of them had excuses for not going. So he invited people off the streets – crippled, blind and lame. Then he ordered his servants to invite people from out of town, making particular note that the ones he first invited, his busy “friends,” were no longer welcome.
Whether or not Jesus actually says the words “The Kingdom of Heaven is like …,” we know that parables are meant to reveal to us how God’s world works. And I need to constantly remind myself, “kingdom of heaven” is not synonymous with “afterlife” or “apocalypse.” Especially in Luke’s gospel, the focus is always on today, the here and now, the present. When we say “the kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” we don’t mean that the world is about to end.
(Ok, some Christians do. It’s all about “end times” and “tribulation” and “rapture.” That’s not reflective of ALL Christian theological perspectives, though. In fact, that’s a very recent American evangelical theological invention that takes huge liberties with the words of sacred scripture. If all that “rapture” talk doesn’t sit well with you, you’re in good company, with a lot of other Christians, including Catholics and other “reformation” denominations. You can read more about that here: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-rapture.)
Back to the matter at hand. The Kingdom of Heaven. It’s here. All around us. And the invitation stands.
Exactly what is the invitation? To dinner. I don’t know about you, but when I share a meal with someone, even a stranger or someone with whom I disagree, I feel a kinship with them. Breaking bread is a powerful church symbol because it reflects the bond that forms when we gather to eat, drink, share stories, and create community. What better antidote to the loneliness and isolation that accompanies human existence? I sincerely hope my own religious faith reforms itself to allow all present to partake of the “meal” of the Eucharist, and it looks as though there are movements in that direction thanks to Pope Francis.
I never say no to an invitation to share food with someone. I’ve been lonely for far too long in my life. Breakfast, lunch or dinner with friends or family is my favorite recreational activity, no matter what the setting. I would drop just about anything to join any of you for a meal.
Do I have that same attitude toward God’s invitation?
Well, not so much. For example, I’ve been nursing a HUGE resentment that I need to take my girls to religious ed class on Thursday afternoon. I am going to be brutally honest here: it is the single most inconvenient part of my week. Class is at 4:15. My son gets off the bus at 4, and we race down the highway for a half hour to get to church late. Class goes until 5:30, and during that hour, my son does his homework while I try to make the most of the quiet time (which is poisoned by my resentment). We get home at 6, with three cranky and very hungry children. And because I’ve been gone all afternoon, it’s at least another half hour before we eat. By that time we are all hating one another because we’re hungry, angry, tired, and also a bit pissed because we didn’t get to play with our friends after school. It’s a lethal combination.
I have plenty of excuses for not going. We are a busy family. Thursday is one of the few days we could eat dinner at home together. My church is on the other side of town. There’s a lot of traffic. My kids have homework. I have housework. Rar rar rar.
I do it because I made a promise when they were baptized. I do it because my ability to teach religious faith to my own children is limited and I have no discipline for formal instruction. I do it because they need something as a foundation on which to grow spiritually besides my sometimes lack-luster example. The men and women who volunteer as catechists at church are amazing. I was a teacher myself last year (when they offered much more convenient Sunday classes – hint hint!) and I love the materials they use. It is a good program, even if it doesn’t fit in my schedule the way I’d like.
Today’s reading challenges me to have a different approach to God’s invitation to spiritually feed me and my kids. Last night, I prayed about it. I asked God to help me with this resentment. And this morning, I read Luke. I love how God works!
The theme of the reading is simple – all are welcome. All. The most twisted and broken among us, the foreigners. We all need the love of God, but how many of us actually want it? If we are church-going people, it is our responsibility to live in such a way that the broken and the foreign to our ways KNOW without reservation they are unconditionally invited to share in God’s love, and they need only show up and be present to receive it. And if we ourselves, as church-going people, make excuse after excuse for why we can’t show up and be present, we are only hurting ourselves.
So this Thursday when I show up, it will be with a new attitude, and maybe some snacks for the journey. I’ll leave the excuses and resentment at home.