A Jesus Party
“Then Jesus said to the host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.’ (Luke 14:12-14a)
We’ve been discussing Jesus’ parables in our Sunday evening group and we recently came across this passage. This instruction is sandwiched in between two parables that Jesus shares while attending a banquet a Pharisee’s house. Just so you know, according to Luke’s gospel, Jesus eats a lot. This gospel perspective uses these stories and mentions food often as if the writer were trying to ensure that when the reader thinks of Jesus, they picture him at a table. Scholars have deduced that this literary device might be an eschatological point, or that the author believes heaven to be like a dinner party with Jesus as the host. We might also conclude that the author’s intent is that, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in chapter 24, we realize Jesus’ presence in our midst as we share communion. In other words, Heaven and church should be like a party.
But like many of Jesus’ instructions, our motivation is just as important as our behavior. Party invitations may have been a way to climb the social ladder in Jesus’ day. (You know, we’re way beyond that kind of stuff today.) If you have the “right” people at your party, you could be invited to the right parties later on. So Jesus said if you’re gonna throw a party invite people who can’t repay you, otherwise you’ll be getting something out of it. And if you do something for personal benefit, can you really say you gave? The context of this passage might help us similarly conclude that acting humble so that you are exalted may not be true humility.
This gets real for those of us who want to follow Jesus and feel compelled to also invite others to follow Jesus. Churches often throw parties (worship services, Bible studies, and yes, even ACTUAL parties) but what is their (our) motive? We may not want an invitation to everyone’s New Year Celebration, but we do hope you keep coming, and maybe you will like what we have to say, and maybe become a member, and maybe support our work financially, and maybe help us grow, and maybe become mission-minded like us, and maybe help start the process all over again. Churches, like individuals must ask the question: Do we give—do we throw the party—because we’re hoping for something more?
Following Jesus involves some pretty radical behavior. Radical generosity. Radical trust. Radical forgiveness. It’s radical because of how far we are willing to take it. And it is radical because it doesn’t really make any sense to anyone watching. But I can’t help but think this is what it means to be a Christian.
When I was fresh out of college, I worked for a church that liked to throw “Jesus Parties.” There was an organization not far from the church that provided care for mentally-challenged adults. Our volunteers would arrive at the facility with decorations, food, a live band, and games to throw a fabulous party. The clients would come in greeted with cheers and feel like honored guests. Then we’d dance the night away. It was always a moving evening to witness the joy on people’s faces. It was some pure heaven on earth.
So why throw the party? We want to throw parties to offer love and acceptance and community to those who otherwise would miss out. We want to throw parties because we know how good it feels to be invited and included. We want to throw parties because it brings heaven to earth.