Sermon - 1st September 2013
Feasting and fasting
Scripture - Luke 14:1, 7-14
Rev Andy Braunston
When do we eat?
We may eat when we’re hungry, we may eat to mark a special occasion. We may eat to share time with friends or family. We may eat when we’re bored. We may eat when we’re upset.
Meals feature heavily in the accounts of Jesus we have in the Gospels – he eats with sinners, he makes breakfast for his disciples after his resurrection, his disciples get in trouble with the religious authorities because they pick corn on the Sabbath, he feeds a crowd, he shares in the intimacy of a Passover meal with his closest disciples adding new layers of meaning to it resulting in what we now call the Eucharist. So food is an essential part of Jesus’ life and ministry as it is an important part of our own culture.
Food in our Culture
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about our relationship with food in our culture. A series of programmes – the Men who Made Us Fat and the Men who Made Us Thin – analysed the troubled relationship with we have with food. Most of us eat too much processed food which means we get fat. The food industry seems very clever at avoiding regulation and taxes on fatty foods and makes itself look good by sponsoring sporting activities – activities we probably couldn’t do if we ate the food they produce! In the Western world there is a growing problem with obesity so a whole new industry has grown up around dieting. We export our food problems to the developing world – one food company has a boat which sails down the Amazon to sell sugary foods to people who live on its banks but can’t easily get to towns and cities. We eat because we have to but, increasingly, we eat food which has already been prepared for us – microwave meals etc – yet these foodstuffs which save us time don’t help us to be healthy. So food, which should be a source of nutrition has, all too often, become something which is bad for us. Food which can be a means of celebration has become something we worry about.
Jesus & Food
Jesus seems to have loved meal times – you can’t imagine John the Baptist – who fed himself on wild honey and locusts – being a fun guest for dinner. Jesus drinks wine – he changes stone jars of water into wine and people seemed to like having him round for dinner. In our story, Jesus is at a banquet and tells a “parable” about the meal setting, which is followed up by another story about another banquet. He can’t get enough of what happens at meals.
We shouldn’t be too surprised that Jesus is eating with a Pharisee – they get a bad name in the Gospels but in a few verses before today’s passage it seems they warned him that Herod was after him. They were the most influential people in Jewish society and worked very hard for the survival of their people. Jesus was critical of them because he knew them well and was, in many ways, one of them. At the same time, however, they were very suspicious of him and watched him closely – trying to catch him out. So the meal with a Pharisee gives Jesus a great opportunity to teach a lesson and turn the tables a bit.
A Bit About Culture
We live in a different culture – even with friends we may eat on the sofa around the TV rather than at a table. We rarely have formal dinners with a seating order – perhaps only at weddings. Jesus’ culture was different and had a deeper sense of shame than ours does. So Jesus uses this sense of shame to make his point. In his story he is less concerned about the food that is on offer but the seating arrangements. Avoiding shame is a huge consideration in Jesus’ culture so being asked to move down the table to make room for more important guests would not only have been embarrassing but shameful – and if one was shamed that could affect one’s ability to trade with others and even on who would want to marry your children.
But Jesus turns the shame and honour system on its head and suggests that when a banquet is held people should be invited that wouldn’t normally receive an invitation: “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind; and you will be blessed, because they are not able to pay you back.” His words challenge the culture he was part of – it’s always a brave thing to challenge one’s own culture. He is saying to reject the whole system where you treat people well in order to be treated well in return, to abandon the system of inviting the rich in order to get reciprocal invitations, he tells people not to bother being seen as respectable – after all Jesus was hardly respectable.
Instead Jesus is interested in those at the bottom of the pile. These are the people he tells his listeners to associate with but, the problem then is, if one does this one can expect nothing in return except for a rather intangible reward from God! It’s an investment, if you like, in the future.
Jesus is teaching us something profound about how we treat others – particularly those who are not able to pay us back for what we do for them. Living in the UK which is a democratic society where we have strong ideas about justice and inclusion it’s easy to miss Jesus’ point as his society was very different from our own. Yet even in our society we tend to associate with “people like us” – people who our world view, people who have a similar economic background, people with similar values. We live in a society which professes to believe that we are all created equal yet our society is probably more unequal than Jesus’.
In Jesus time the distinctions people made hindered them seeing each other for who they really were – all those distinctions based on wealth and class. In our own society we often make treat each other differently due to differing genders, differing ages, differing immigration status and nationalities, differing earnings, differing sexualities. Jesus’ story reminds us to look beyond all the things that divide us – all the false separations and see each other as we really are – children of God, created in His image, and people for whom He died. When we see each other as we really are we understand each other, our world, and God more clearly.