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by Dr. Paul Wadell, Professor of Religious Studies
Something interesting always happens when Jesus sits down at a meal, and it's no different in this gospel story. Jesus has been invited to dinner at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, but like so many overtures of hospitality to Jesus in the gospels, it's a set-up. Luke tells us that all those gathered at table with Jesus were "watching Him closely," eager to find reasons to criticize Him.
And so Jesus unsettles them with a parable. Parables always begin normally enough but end by turning our usual ways of thinking and reasoning upside down. Parables invite us to imagine the world differently. In this gospel story Jesus spins a parable about where we should sit if we happen to be invited to a feast. A keen observer of human nature, Jesus knows there is a tendency in all of us to want to "take the place of honor" at table, to seek to be noticed and recognized. Jesus knows how we frequently attempt to gain our identity by measuring ourselves favorably in comparison with others.
But Jesus invites us to try something different. He counsels us "to occupy the last place" at the feast and to see how life looks to us from that unaccustomed position. Then Jesus asks us to imagine ourselves hosting a dinner. Instead of inviting people we are comfortable with, our friends, family members and relatives, or important people whose presence might help us advance, Jesus challenges us to be daring by inviting the very ones we ordinarily overlook or dismiss: "the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind." Jesus says if we risk what strikes us as very unpromising hospitality, we will be blessed.
In a culture of aggressive self-promotion, Jesus' advice for planning a good dinner party strikes us as madness. But in the banquet that is the reign of God, it is the ordinary way of going about life.