Our gospel today is the third instance in which Luke tells us that Jesus ate with the Pharisees. It must have been an unusual event. Luke says that they watched him closely. However, it seems that Jesus was also observing them. He gently teases the other guests about what he had observed. Watching them arrive looking around at who else was there. Thinking about where and by whom they would sit. Trying to get a good place; we have similar situations today.
We might find that we start to put at a distance those whom we have judged to be of a somewhat lesser or inferior station in life. People can become snobs, they start by the way they treat waiters or waitresses or people who wait on them in shops, no “please or thank you.” Or more serious, telling ones children not to mix with this or that child at school because they are not the same nationality or color as us. Then there are those we keep at a distance: relative or friend, alcoholic, drug addict, unemployed, recently divorced. We lose sight of the fact that neighbor is a four-letter word, need. Jesus was speaking to the religious people of His day and He gives them some shocking news. He tells them that the ones they look down upon, the people that they called outcasts; they will be admitted to the Kingdom of God and this was outrageous.
Next, He turned His attention to the host; the man was undoubtedly already irritated at the impudent young prophet. Who did He think He was, criticizing the leading citizens of the community? But, Jesus was not finished yet. He also had unsolicited advice for him, His recommendation-enlarge your social circle. Throw a party for the little people, those who cannot pay you back.
Jesus was a radical; He was always upsetting the establishment. Not just doing the wrong thing, but the scandalous thing like: healing on the Sabbath, forgiving the woman caught in adultery, reaching out to Samaritans, touching lepers. He made enemies of the powerful because He put compassion above tradition, love above law, people above things and institutions. Most of these in attendance at the meal were probably people of the same station in life. There were none of the ones Jesus mentioned: the poor, the maimed, the ill, the blind, the outcast, any of those invited could have returned the favor.
That same principle seems still to hold, not only in private life, but even on an international level. Nations help other nations because they need their raw materials or military bases. Not just because that nation is poor and needs help. Politicians tend to bring money to areas and people who can return the favor at the ballot box. In this kind of environment, we could easily catch ourselves believing that the only people worth caring for are the bright, the successful, the prosperous and the powerful. Those who can add something to our lives either materially or socially, we are often so proud of the successful members of our families and tend to forget those who are not making it. And they are probably the ones who need us most. Today Jesus is calling attention to the value of the forgotten ones of humanity.
The Dean of the Graduate School of Theology addressed the incoming class; he spoke for over an hour telling them all they needed to know about the rarified atmosphere of the graduate school. He said, at the end of four years you will hopefully leave here as Master or Doctor of Theology. But unless you know the names of the Janitors in this building, those who clean the classrooms and the hallways; your degrees are worth nothing. You will meet many people in the next four years, they are all significant, they deserve your attention and care even if all you can do is smile and say hello.
After all, he said, one day you will all be Priests trying to be followers of the greatest foot washer in history. At your baptism the priest said, I claim you for Christ. That means that you too are a follower of the greatest foot washer in history.