(Luke 14:1-14; Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1 and 10-16; Hebrews 3:1-8 and 15-16)
Our Gospel reading takes place in the home of a leader of the Pharisees. Luke ensures that, from the outset, the reader is aware that this is not a particularly friendly sabbath meal.
These religious leaders are ‘…watching him closely.’
Jesus is immediately presented him with a dilemma. Before him appears a man with dropsy. We are left to wonder at a set-up. Why is he here? How did he so conveniently and quickly end up ‘right in front’ of Jesus? Were these two guests invited for this very moment? Does this man know he is being used? Has he agreed to a humiliating and public encounter in the hope of meeting Jesus?
We can only speculate. What we do know is that the temptation to set this man free from his ailment is simply too much for Jesus.
But before healing him, Jesus asks his hosts for their professional legal assessment: ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ Although the law is their area of expertise they refuse to reply. Jesus response: firstly, to heal the man, and second, to send him, healed and whole, from these prying, callous eyes. Jesus affirms this man’s dignity through both healing and letting him leave.
Only then does Jesus offer his own assessment: ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’
There is, once again, silence. This party is not starting well. Jesus it would seem is a somewhat challenging guest.
But he is only just getting started. He also has a problem with the seating arrangements and with the guest list. Jesus has been doing some close watching of his own.
And he has noticed that Jesus the guests are clamoring for ‘the places of honor’. Jesus’ parable changes the setting to a wedding banquet but almost all the rest of his story could be taken straight from the scene before him. This is, perhaps one of Jesus less-than-well-disguised parables.
And his story points to the possible disgrace of exaggerating your own importance. He confrontingly concludes: ‘For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted’.
A conversation stopper is ever there was one!
The predictable pause may have been a good opportunity for Jesus to leave. But he is far from finished. Having taken on the guests, he now turns to- or perhaps ‘turns on’ – the host.
The invitation list – with the exception of the healed man who has now left – was a careful selection of relatives and rich friends. This, according to Jesus is a sharing among the haves at the exclusion of the have-nots.
Jesus daringly suggests that a broader selection would have been more just – and more pleasing to God. He fingers repayment as the motive. But it is a short sighted repayment. In the host’s economy of invite and be invited God is assumed absent.
But God is not absent – neither then nor now.
Jesus’ host holds to an economy that is narrower than the reality of the kingdom he so zealously serves. In his lists and his abuse of the man with dropsy he – like his guests rushing for the prime seats – has forgotten God. Indeed the forgetting is so profound that it takes Jesus’ presence, parables, and teaching to hint that another possibility even exists. Without him there to disrupt and disturb no-one would have thought anything of the absent poor or of the guests pervasive push to the top. Without the presence of Jesus, everything looks as it should. Alarmingly, the scene they create – to which each of them contributes – is considered – of all things – normal.
And this profound forgetting of God has happened before.
Jeremiah’s prophecy was born of God’s frustration. The people t whom God gave God’s own name have moved far from God’s side. They have left – and replaced – God seeking that which is ‘worthless’. It has had its effect: they have become ‘worthless themselves’.
Jeremiah highlights their lostness by pointing out that they – like the people gathered in the Pharisee’s home – do not even ask the question of God’s absence.
The reading peaks with the sobering and vivid accusation: My ‘people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.’
It is a poor deal – a trade no-one in their right mind would consider. They have abandoned the river of life to dig fruitlessly – searching – for water.
And they are so lost that the question of finding again ‘the fountain of living water’ is not even being asked.
How easily we lose sight of God and God’s generous economy.
And then there is our reading from the letter to the Hebrews. It is an important passage for anyone who has ever found themselves, with no memory of abundant water while furiously digging in dessert sands. It – vitally – describes what remembering God looks like.
The author has celebrated – in some detail – the death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is the foundation on which today’s reading rests. In recent weeks we have heard of the ‘faith’ of those who found and followed God once again. They become heroes re-visioning what a life trusting in God might look like. They have en-fleshed faith. These are lives lived in thanks, worship and hope.
Immediately prior to the reading we just heard we read these words: ‘Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe…’
Worshiping God ‘with reverence and awe’ is abundantly more than liturgy and song on Sundays. It asks for our all.
Our passage spells it out:
‘Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers… Remember those who are in prison as though you were in prison with them. Let the marriage bed be held in honor by all…Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for God has said, ‘Never will I leave you or forsake you.’
Few of us can hear these words without some level of cringe. We do not worship God like this all the time. We may have moments – but we return to this table of celebration to remember the radical grace of Jesus for good reason. We need forgiveness.
But even then we do well to remember that upon taking on the name of Jesus our lives are no longer our own. They are now lived in radical, committed love to God and one another.
Such love is simply what finding God looks like. Love is what happens to individuals and communities who drink deeply and continually from once lost ‘the fountain of living water’.