>Set Another Place at the Table . . .
>I have a confession.
I wasn’t really paying attention to the sermon yesterday – I plead guilty of keeping my eye on the congregation, watching the acolytes step out and not come back in until the middle of the homily. I do remember the rector stating that there are moments in life when we can’t believe we said something, or did something, and it sticks with us forever. Little social gaffs. The scripture from the Gospel yesterday was Luke 14:1-13, the Parable of the Great Dinner. Jesus advises dinner guests not to take the best places, the ones near the host, the ones above the salt, for to do that is to call attention to one’s self and importance; rather, take a lower seat and let the host bring you to a place of honor. He also tells the host that when he throws a dinner party not to invite family and friends, those who can repay the kindness, but invite the poor and unwanted, people who cannot offer payment in kind.
I don’t throw a lot of dinner parties, but I do make social blunders – I stick my foot in my mouth up to the kneecap at times. I remember my first night in CPE at San Francisco General. I was in the ER and making rounds and I kept passing by a bed where a young man was sitting up, watching me like a hawk. I finally felt his eyes burning into my back and I approached him, saying, “You look pretty well; how’re you feeling?” The young man frowned and said, “I’m in this bed, how do you think I’m feeling?” I kept stumbling over my words and I was about ready to ask if he wanted a prayer when I noticed a ring of black soot around his mouth – charcoal infusion used to absorb drugs and poisons in overdose cases. I started to say all the stupid things I wouldn’t want said to me, “Well, at least you’re here,” “God had a plan for you,” “How are you really” – I just couldn’t shut up. I finally bowed away gracefully, I thought, and when I was almost out the door the young man called me back and there I was, hands in pocket, face staring at my clogs, when he said, “Thanks. You’re the first person today that has actually cared about me and shown it. Don’t worry about it. At least you cared to stop by and ask me what the hell was I thinking.”
No, I didn’t ask him that. But I was thinking that. I’ve never forgotten that moment, either. And what does this story have to do with table manners and guests?
We are all invited to the table regardless of what we choose to do with our lives, or where we are in our lives. Jesus also asks us to invite those who live on the edges of society to our tables. Nowadays, that’s pretty risky, but I think my parish steps up to that challenge by hosting a meal once a month for the hungry of Berkeley. We invite the poor and unwanted to our spiritual and faith home and I think that’s what Jesus would want. When we reach out to those in need, no matter how awkwardly we do it, that is also something Jesus would have us do.
Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,