Tasting the Kingdom 4

In the life of Jesus as he comes announcing the Kingdom of God, we find that it is not only the words that he speaks but the life that he lives that gives people a taste of the Kingdom of God.  As people interact with Jesus (and his church) they not only hear but they experience a foretaste of the wedding banquet of the Lamb.

“One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” And they had nothing to say.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Then Jesus said to his 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. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:1-14)

1) Note the attitude of the Pharisees – they are carefully watching Jesus.  What are they watching for – to see whether Jesus will heal on the Sabbath.  But when Jesus asks them a direct question they are silent.  Why?  I imagine they are afraid of answering and being made to look foolish by Jesus (yet again).  So credit to them they have the common sense to keep quiet – they will not play along with Jesus this time.  But Jesus is not dissuaded he knows what they are thinking – not hard really after what has gone before.

After healing the man Jesus asks the penetrating question in v5 – “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?”  Or in other words “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

The religious experts have got their focus in the wrong place – the law – God’s law – calls them not to be concerned with the obedience of the law as an end in itself.  That is a self-defeating end.  The law is given for man – that we may protect, serve and love one another and God.  The Kingdom of God is a breath of fresh air because it is not primarily about the laws and rules – the Kingdom of God calls us back to what the Law was given for in the first place – to teach us how to Love God and Love others.

Is it not significant that this is how Jesus sums up the Law in Matthew “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (22:37-40)  The Law is given to help us do good not as an end in itself.

2) Beware that your zeal for righteousness/the law of God/God’s honour does not make you miss the entire point of the law itself – to love God and love others.

3) Humility and servant hood are genuine signs that the Kingdom is at work in the life of an individual and a community.  Often we Christians are quick to shout the odds regarding homosexuality and teenage pregnancies or abortion or whatever the hot topic is that dominates your cultural horizon.  But whilst holding on to the gospel word of truth – we ought to be quick to serve, to love, to give these “sinners” a genuine taste of the Kingdom of God.

It is one thing to be loved by people who share your views, your morality or who are part of your in-group.  But what when people who you know disagree with your lifestyle, morality or worldview are those that show the most love and care for “their enemies” (seems like I remember someone saying something about that somewhere). If this is how we were known – could you imagine that the reaction might be slightly different when we speak of the gospel?

4) How might our churches, homes and communities look and react if we genuinely took Jesus’ teaching regarding a banquet/dinner party/barbecue seriously?  What if we stopped spiritualising it all away and actually believed that perhaps that is just what Jesus meant?  I for one am sure that when Jesus said invite the poor, lame and blind – the outcasts, misfits and marginalized – that is exactly what he meant.

Why is this some kind of “liberal social gospel”?  No, this is meant to be a real live, breathing parable or picture of what the Kingdom is all about.  The upside-down kingdom that reverses all our systems of privilege, exclusion and social scale and welcomes and is embraced by the poor, outcast and sinner.  And is rejected by the religious, moral and privileged.  A system of grace and mercy not good works and legalism.

If we threw this kind of dinner party – would this not look like good news to our community?  It would extend grace to the marginalised and destitute and challenge the pretensions and privilege of the wealthy and important.  Feels like a taste of the wedding banquet of the lamb to me…  It has a distinct taste of grace about it…

Part 5 will look at Luke 14:15-24

~ by John on September 23, 2008.

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