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Jesus is the persistent inviter
At the Love Feast, I made the point that God’s love is best expressed in the body of Christ. Just like Jesus was best revealed to us in his fleshly form, so we, the incarnational representation of his body—the church, God’s dwelling place—is how Jesus currently incarnationally reveals himself, in your body and in our body. The fullness of God’s love, which surpasses our knowledge, is best revealed in his body. Paul seems to be constantly making this point to the people he is writing to. In fact, the beginning roots of the individualistic ethic that impregnated the Western world, with the Enlightenment finally birthing it, started in the Roman Empire. Paul and Jesus and the writers of the Bible are combatting it all the time, with a communal alternative. That idea is tricky to understanding, especially in this individually dominated world.
The powers drive us to have a perfect projection of ourselves—we prioritize how others see us. Ever been on a job interview? Or even a first date? It can be discouraging. Especially if our earnestness is not met with success. If we simply aren’t dealt the right cards, if we don’t win the cosmic lottery, we may feel like a failure. We may become cynical or antagonistic. Sometimes we become worried. Our anxiety leads us. It seems like the people during Jesus’ time were equally worried. I want to work through Luke's Gospel, written to the Gentiles—non-Jewish people that often had a hard time getting into the movement. Luke spends a lot of time highlighting the stories of Christ that surround society’s outcasts. These non-Jewish people are so often rejected they may have a similar level of despair to those of us that feel stuck in the rat race. They are not powerful or rich enough to have any influence in the Roman Empire, and they are not accepted into the Jewish community. Luke specifically wants to welcome them to the community and shows them Jesus as a lover of the oppressed.
Let’s begin in Luke 12, where Jesus is telling his famous story about not worrying. This is right after Jesus tells the story of the wealthy man whose concern that his barns are too small to hold all of his stuff prompts him to build bigger barns. Jesus moves into his teaching about worrying, which Jesus implies was the root of the rich fool’s plunder.
Luke is giving some context and added interpretation to Jesus’ parable of the foolish rich man. (Matthew does a similar thing when he places the Do Not Worry teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, following Christ’s teaching on not serving two masters). Jesus’ point is not to fret about gaining wealth, security, and status in this world, but to find it in the Father who knows what we need.
The point I want to emphasize here are these two phrases: “Of how much more value are you than the birds!” and “how much more will he clothe you.” You could read this passage and consider yourself having little faith and being a worry wort. But I think Jesus’ point is how much value you have.
Jesus’ point in both the parable of the rich young fool and in this lesson is that you can gather all you want to get worldly status, but you will only enjoy it as long as you live. Trusting in him gives you abundant life and love; what will worrying do? Certainly not extend your life.
The capitalists decide our merit on worth. As a community, we want to be rewriting their script. Our value is found in God’s love for us. There is enough love and life to go around. You are worth it. And in fact we find Jesus in the least among us. Those who don’t have a résumé that’s worth bragging about. In fact, if our life is filled with the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of societal self-worth, we may struggle to find room at the table of Jesus. In Luke 14, Jesus offers a parable where that very thing happened.
One can make the argument that the people that Jesus invited “first” to the table were his Jewish comrades. They refused to join. And in Matthew 23, you clearly see him mourning that loss. But Jesus invites all who are available and all who are ready. Jesus seems to think that if we collect all of our love and approval from the world, there may not be an interest among us to follow him.
Truly, the cost of discipleship is high. It probably won’t result in a lot of wealth or stature, but if that’s what we want, worldly recognition, it may be hard for us to follow Jesus. I think Jesus is looking for the outcasts. The people that don’t think that they count and I think he wants to invite them into fellowship with him and purpose with him.
These people, “the poor, crippled, blind, and lame” may not think they matter. They’ve been trampled on by society, but Jesus invites them. It takes that invitation I think to convince certain folks to come to the table, both people that need to sacrifice their worldly pursuits, and those who still don’t think that they are “actually” invited.
Luke may even know that his audience is reticent, so he keeps telling them the same story. The intensity of the Gospel of the Outcast (chapter 9 to 18) is proof of the necessity of redundantly making this point. I think Jesus continually invites us to the table, even persistently, but even the most persistent person can’t do it for you. You’ll have to take the plunge, you’ll have to say "yes." You’ll eventually have to realize that God loves you and that you count. You can make a contribution. You can do your part, not just in the sitting at the table and eating, but in inviting someone else to do it. I’ll give you one more of example of Luke making this point as clear as day, as right as rain.
Luke uses the Parable of the Lost Sheep to make a point that he will make twice more in the same chapter. He redundantly makes this point. Luke is talking to Gentiles, like I said, and he is encouraging them by telling them Jesus will go after each one of them—he’ll leave the flock to find them. Even if you are out-of-step, the black sheep, the lost one, Jesus will find you and include you. You won’t have to become like everyone else, Jesus will include you as you are.
Your insecurity and self-doubt can paint all of the encouragement that Luke and Jesus are trying to give you here. You can reject it if you want. Jesus can come after you and you can refuse to enter. You can ignore the message that you count and that you matter, but behind that message is one of transformation. Jesus wants to find you and even use you in his mission as you are and where you are.
The purpose of the self-worth that Jesus is trying to get us to accept isn’t just so we can go back to the world and get consumed by the system. It’s so we can contribute to the one that Jesus is inviting us in. The church can be get a great place to feel great about yourself, to recover, and then when we are “done” with it—when we’ve collected our friends—we peace out.
I think the transformation that Jesus can give us is worth sharing. I think your participation in our community gives you a chance to know that you count. It’s about participating in something where you will need to rely on Jesus. Only the most arrogant of us falsely think that we have the stuff inside of ourselves to change the world, but the more humble of us know that we need to do it with Jesus and his body. We need to do it together.
Jesus will find you and welcome you. So will the community. And if that isn’t your experience, do some including yourself. Go ahead, take a risk, invite someone else to the table, know that your invitation, in Christ, means something.
Accept the invitation to be a part of the community. You matter. You can contribute. You can do your part. Perhaps you need to search yourself to discern what that is. I will leave you with just that this time. Think about yourself. How you see yourself. Who you are. Consider how you fit into God’s bigger project. What can you bring? If you are struggling with coming up with an answer, try to ask your cell leader. When you get somewhere, try to believe that you are indeed worth it. There are all sorts of things that can keep you from believing this: the church, your experience in it, might even be a part of that. But believe God and his love for you despite your family, your experiences, and despite even how you view yourself. God has room for you at the table.