The Great Banquet

To many who follow Jesus this is a familiar parable. Jesus had been invited to dinner at the home of a leader of the Pharisees, a dominant religious sect of His time. At one point he tells a story about a great feast. The host had sent out many invitations, but everyone who had been invited, when told the feast was ready, came up with excuses why they could not attend. The host then commanded his servant to invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame“, but there was still more room. So the host ordered his servant to go out and find even more people to attend the feast. Look in places where the servant had not looked the first time, was the message. The servant did as he had been instructed.

The study notes for The Meeting House Home Church studies that week asked this question: How do we translate this into our situation today in 2017? I don’t think we really unpacked that answer at the table at which I was sitting that week, so I am going to take this opportunity to do so now. 

I believe this is entirely consistent with Christ’s fundamental kingdom ethic of reaching out to the orphans in our society. Orphans are usually people who have no voice, no power, no place of prominence or status. They are not leaders, nor are they ever considered for leadership. They are the broken, the disadvantaged, the unfortunate people who existed on the benevolence of the rich and the powerful. They are people who make for lively discussions, but when confronted with the homeless person on the street, or the lonely single person in our churches, we divert our glances, change the subject, or walk away. These are the people we “pray for” on high holidays, but who often spend these days alone remembering better times. 

The same people Jesus wanted to invite to His banquet are among us today. I think one of the delusions about living in a wealthy country like Canada is we don’t recognize the impact of first-world poverty. It is a different kind of poverty than that of the third world, but the social impact on people living in poverty I believe is much the same. I am a person who lives well below the poverty line in Canada, but I live in a nice area of Oakville. I feel the disparity between people I consider to be wealthy and myself. Sometimes I can’t quantify it, but I know there is a difference between myself and the person sitting next to me. I know there is a difference between how that person sees the world and my perception of it. At times, I catch myself making value judgments about people I do not know. 

What does the parable of the banquet look like in 2017? In Canada, Thanksgiving is next Monday. If Christians at my church were to put this parable to practice in real life, there would be no single people sitting at home watching television marathons and eating frozen dinners. They would all be celebrating Thanksgiving with families or couples who are hosting a dinner for people who have nowhere else to go. Many years ago I attended a Bible school in Texas. I was there for an American Thanksgiving and wound up going to three different homes for Thanksgiving dinner on the same day. I was younger and could eat a lot more in those days. I was also there one Christmas when a family invited me to join them for Christmas Day. I got there expecting to participate in the joy of watching this family unwrap their gifts when someone handed me a gift. It was a tie. This was the spirit of Jesus’s banquet. About thirty years ago an elderly man named Charlie, and his wife, hosted a Christmas dinner every year for homeless people living in downtown Toronto. They lived in upscale Etobicoke in a nice home, but that one day they opened their home to the people Jesus described in this parable. It may not be safe in our day and age to open our homes to random strangers, but I believe there are other things that Christians can do to fulfill the spirit of this parable. One day a man I did not know bought me a cup of coffee at a coffee shop. It was a random act of kindness. I had never met the man and I never saw him again, but he definitely brightened my day.

Our lives are littered with opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the people around us. We glorify the spectacular opportunities to impact someone’s life. Many years ago I came across a saying: Great opportunities to serve God rarely come. Small ones surround us daily. The font for the first sentence was huge. The font for the second sentence in that saying was so small you could barely read it. Perhaps all you can do is offer someone a cold cup of water, or a tissue to wipe away a tear. I believe the spirit of that parable wasn’t the feast, but the fact that the host reached out to people he may have ignored in the past and welcomed them into his home and fed them.

Depressing Reality

I have been in a pit of depression for weeks now. There have been occasional moments during those weeks where I think I am pulling out of the pit, but generally something comes along to knock me back into this dark pit of depression.

The most recent event that sent me back into the pit involved my computer. About 8 years ago I made a really good decision and bought an Apple Mac Mini. My father had given all the kids some money and I needed a new computer. It was a good decision. That was 8 years ago. I exist on Ontario Disability, which gives me enough to make it from one month to another. Saving money is extremely difficult and the thought of having to buy another computer is terrifying. I cannot work and have no money behind me. 

The other day I had the idea of doing video podcasts and putting them on YouTube. A lot of people do this and I thought it might be fun to try it. I have always had iMovie on my computer, at least I thought I had it. When I went to the App Store to download a new copy of it, I discovered that my computer is too old. The new version won’t work and Apple does not offer superseded versions of their programs to people with older computers. When I spoke to an Apple tech about options, he told me to buy a new computer.

I know a guy at my church who uses Apple computers for work. I thought he might have an older copy of iMovie that he could give me. It’s a free program. In an email exchange which I clearly misunderstood, he sent an email message telling me that for $400 it was mine. He had mentioned he had an old laptop and I thought he was talking about the old laptop. Later, I realized he was referring to the free program and it was a joke. My response was that I did not have $400 and if I did I would be inclined to use it to support World Vision children, or to help buy clothing for poor people who didn’t have proper clothing for the winter, or to host Thanksgiving dinner for people who had nowhere to go and would be alone on Thanksgiving. 

My church has a large Bible study on Wednesday nights which I attend. This week we talked about the parable of the great feast in Luke 14. In the study guide, one of the questions asked, “What do you think this parable would look like today, in 2017?” or something like that. Oddly, no one could answer this question or offer any insights about what the great feast might look like today. The people at this Bible study, almost to a person, are affluent enough that they would likely give no more thought to buying a car or a computer than I would to buying a cup of coffee. My perception of these people, whether it is accurate or not, is that these are fairly rich people. 

Am I poor? Yes I am, but I am not World Vision poor. I am not as poor or impoverished as people in 3rd world countries. That is a different understanding of poverty. I am first-world poor. One man at my church told me that anyone on Ontario Disability or social assistance is so far below the poverty line they can’t see it looking up. I think that is a pretty fair understanding of first-world poverty. I now wonder if it is easier to be poor in a place where everyone else is equally impoverished than it is in a place where one person is poor among relative great wealth. When people make jokes about $400 as if it’s pocket change, the reality of my poverty rises to the surface and it can trigger depression. I sink into that pit of murky, foggy depression where I realize that I am poor, that buying another Mac Mini is impossible unless someone buys it for me — and I know that isn’t going to happen. 

I am writing this post from the pit of depression. It is my perspective today. It is a snapshot of where I am today.