When I perform a wedding, I like to attend the reception simply out of curiosity.
If the Norwegian bachelor pastor is invited, where do you have him sit?
It's a fascinating window into how people think, and what if anything they think of me.
Some don't invite me at all, in which case I try not to show up.
Those who do invite me have to figure out where to put me.
Sometimes I placed with the hyper-religious cousin, and I take one for the team.
Sometimes I get seated at the head table with the happy, appreciative couple.
Sometimes, bordering on often, I find myself next to someone who acts like the
first person ever to have issues with the Catholic church.
Sometimes I get seated with the single ladies—pleasure to meet you!
Sometimes I land on what is clearly an island of misfit toys.
Always there are reasons behind the seating chart.
Where will Jesus sit, the Pharisees and other sabbath dinner guests wonder, as they angle
for good seats of their own.
They were watching him closely, and obviously he was watching them too.
Before he goes rogue advice columnist on them, however, he tips his hand.
Did you notice that verses 2-6 did not get invited to the party this week?
What is the lectionary skipping past?
It's a piece of the story that sounds a lot like last week, when Jesus ignited controversy by
healing a woman who was quite unable to stand up straight on the sabbath.
Now, on this sabbath, he's at it again:
Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy.
And Jesus asked the lawyers and the Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure people on the
sabbath, or not?"
But they were silent.
So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away.
Then he said to them, "If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will
you not immediately pull it out on the sabbath day?"
And they could not reply to this.
Last week's story was about more than Jesus curing the woman; he was healing
the whole synagogue, setting them free from burdensome sabbath expectations.
The same thing is happening this week.
Dropsy is an old word for what we now call edema.
It is bloating caused by excess water and accompanied by insatiable thirst for more.
It was, in the ancient world, a symbol of greed.
Just as the oman embodied a bound and burdened synagogue, the man with dropsy
embodies the guest list, and Jesus wants to heal them.
When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of
honor...not only because of reverse pyschology wisdom, but also because there's
a chance no one will invite you to move up.
Position your body and prepare your heart to be okay with that.
And when you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or brothers
or relatives or rich neighbors, lest they invite you in return...which is the whole point of inviting them.
It is the quid pro quo of social dropsy—you scratch my thirst, I scratch yours.
We help others to help ourselves.
We give enough to charity to get a tax write off, if not our name in the program or on a
We strategically and selectively befriend others to advance ourselves.
And it works, except that it doesn't, because no matter how waterlogged with
prestige and power and fame and money we become, we are not satisfied.
We always end up thirsty for more.
So stop chasing the empty promise of reward, Jesus says.
Invite those who cannot and will not pay you back.
Give expecting nothing in return.
Be generous with no agenda except the wellbeing of someone else.
Who does this?
The guest who is ruining, and healing, the party.
Jesus is God's generous gift to a poor, crippled, lame, blind humanity who can never pay
Communion is the wedding banquet for the broken, the cure for social dropsy, the sledge
hammer that breaks the stranglehold of keeping score and keeping up with the
Joneses, the hand that fishes us out of the well we are quite unable to climb out of.
Will Willimon writes,
The most moving moment in Sunday worship for me is when my people come
forward, at Holy Communion, streaming down toward the altar, and there they
hold out empty hands like little children, like the famished folk they really are,
empty, needing a gift in the worst sort of way.
I think that is one of the most difficult, countercultural gestures of Christian worship— outstretched empty hands.
What's normal, and natural, is the clenched fist, the hands grabbing and holding tight
to what they can get.
What's strange, from the world's point of view, is the open-handed, needy, empty request
I submit to you that there is no way that people like us (we have our Master's degrees!)
could hold out our empty, seeking hands had not the church taught us to do so,
had not the church inculcated this honest gesture among us.
This is who we are, says Jesus, not big, self-sufficient adults, but rather little children,
naked, frail, empty, and hungry, needing a gracious God in the worst sort of way.
You can't get into this Kingdom if you are all grown up and big and important.
You can only come in through a very small door as an inept, bumbling, ignorant,
and empty little child. (The Best of Will Willimon: Acting Up in Jesus' Name, pp. 125-126)
The world around us, and the world inside us, cannot accept this.
There is bound to be conflict when we begin to live this banquet of insane grace.
Our addiction to standards and scorekeeping, our lust for prestige and power, the dropsy
in our souls is deep and insatiably demanding.
We try to regulate Communion and argue about who is worthy to receive it when the
answer has always been no one.
We keep reaching for more and missing the point.
Reach instead for each other, Jesus says.
Who does this?
Faithful spouses, like the ones we celebrate today.
Faithful parents, who break sabbath rules and social expectations to rescue a fallen child.
Faithful children, who suspend their busy lives to care for ailing parents.
Faithful friends, who help with no expectation of reward or appreciation.
Faithful servants, who put their country and community and needy neighbor
before their own health and safety.
Our faithful God, who throws a free banquet, no strings attached, with healing for us all.