Jesus makes a startling demand in the 14th chapter of Luke. We are to throw a sit-down dinner party, and we are to invite the maimed, the blind and the poor.
And when Jesus talks about these people, He’s not talking about hip, blind jazz musicians, full of good stories and clever remarks. He’s not talking about the good-natured, vibrant, handicapped people you see playing wheelchair basketball on Gatorade commercials. And the poor He’s talking about aren’t the starving artists and actors who use dishwashing liquid for shampoo and vanilla extract for cologne yet still always show up at the best parties looking sensational. I read this description to My Fabulous Bride, DebbieMiller®, and she said, “Oh! Les Poors!”
Whom Jesus Actually Mean
But Jesus isn’t talking about Les Poors. He’s talking about the kind of poor who have car parts strewn all over the place and can never pay the rent, but always have dough for booze. The ones who never mow the lawn, but use a bulldozer to knock down the landlord’s 400-year-old oak tree because it interferes with their satellite dish.
Jesus is handing us this guest list and saying to break out the best silver and china for these folks.
Not inviting the residents of the nearest sleazy motel in for Sunday brunch might not seem like a major sin. But even what we might consider small sins become great ones when we try to explain them away, conceal them or justify them.
Let me give you an example. When I was about 14, I shot a hole in the family room ceiling with my Crossman BB-gun. The hole itself was bad enough, but the real adventure began when I used Play-Doh and model paint to try to conceal the damage. The Play-Doh portion of the plan went fine, but when I got to the model paint phase, I spilled it down the front of my drum corps shirt and the sofa I was standing on to reach the ceiling.
Or how about this one. My best pal, Tim, and some of his teenaged cronies drove over a hill at 70 miles an hour, went airborne and broke the motor mounts of his dad’s Chrysler Imperial. Their attempts to conceal the damage lasted until the next morning. His dad started the car, and the motor fell out of the car onto the driveway.
Concealment rarely works.
Why Did You Come To Me?
In the movie “Casino,” Ace and Jimmy have grown up together in organized crime. They have been feuding for some time about how best to handle their business in Las Vegas. Then Ace reveals to Jimmy he’s been having marriage trouble.
Instantly, the tone of everything changes. His gangster buddy says to him, “Why didn’t you come to me? This isn’t business; this is family.”
We read a similar theme in the book of Jeremiah. God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah when Israel had gone off to seek its own fortune, leaving the ways and the promises of God behind them.
Jeremiah compares the Israelites to people who leave behind gushing fountains of living waters to carve out pitiful little basins for themselves, hoping to fill them with rain that will never come. That’s just what happens when you forget who makes the rain in the first place.
God says to Israel — and I hear the voice of Jackie Mason here — “Why didn’t you come to me? What’s wrong with me? Was life with me so bad that you had to go out and find new ways to be worthless? When things went wrong, did you look to me? Did you remember how I brought you into good land? Did you remember how you ruined that good land? No. You didn’t even think about me, your God, the one who brought you out of Egypt and made you a great nation.”
The harder we try to ignore sinfulness or rid ourselves of it, the more it digs into us. We might say that sins are not ours to get rid of, but they are ours to keep. The holes in the ceiling, the car wrecks, the calamities big and small — they don’t get fixed by hiding them.
How many times have we been looking at an ever-growing avalanche of disasters, only to hear the voice of a friend, a teacher, a parent, a mob boss, or the one true God of Israel at our shoulder saying, “Why didn’t you come to me?”
So why don’t we? Why don’t we go and ask for help? For the same reason people take the place of honor without having it offered to them: We want to see ourselves treated the way we think we deserve!
And for the same reason we invite those of our own station to our gatherings and leave those we think of as inferiors at home. There is only so much wealth and privilege to go around, and we want to make sure we get our share.
But God knows us better than that. God knew our ancestors and their ancestors before them. The sacrifices we think we have made, the things we have given away, the things we have given up, the things we congratulate ourselves for sharing — these are nothing compared to God’s sacrifice of our Savior. The good we have done is nothing compared to God’s leading us out of the land of desert and deep pits into a plentiful land.
And yet, the Gospel tells us, we are far better off than the position of Israel. When bad times came along, they had to have their priests make sacrifices and ask why all these horrible fates had befallen them. This time, for us — rich, poor, tidy, messy, responsible, reckless, wise, foolish, socially acceptable or socially awkward — God Himself has made the sacrifice. And because Christ lived and died and rose again, we may call upon the gift of a Savior.
This isn’t business. This is family.