This Sunday the lectionary gospel is Jesus at a dinner in the house of a well-to-do Pharisee. As I was preparing for preaching and leading worship this weekend, I did a quick paraphrase of the passage to help my thinking. I thought I’d share it in case it was helpful for others.
Paraphrase by Malcolm Gordon
On the day of holy rest, Jesus went for dinner at a guys house who was a big deal in the local church. Everyone noticed Jesus enter and every pair of eyes followed him as he moved to find a seat.
He took a seat by the door and then watched the drama as the other guests politely but fiercely competed with each other while feigning deference. They all sought a seat at the top table. He began to tell a story to those sitting near him and soon a hush fell over the room. This latecomer sitting near the back had become the centre of attention. Those sitting near him swelled with pride. The carefully arranged seating plan had been turned on its head.
‘If you get invited to a fancy meal, don’t plonk yourself at the head table. You have no idea who else is coming and chances are you’ll be asked to move, a walk of shame that will end with you sitting next to the door to the loos.
Far better to sit yourself there in the first place. For when the host sees you, your lack of self promotion will no doubt endear you to him, your disinterest in clamouring for attention will bring you to his attention and he’ll say, ‘Dear friend, what on earth are you doing all the way back here!?’ and then take you and seat your further up.
The very same seat that might have felt like settling for second best before will now feel like affirmation. This is the difference between a life of gratitude and one of entitlement. Let others debate your importance and do not worry too much about what they decide, for your worth is already set, and you needn’t trivialise it with childish games of oneupmanship.’
He continued, ‘And when you are the important one, the host, don’t use that position to climb the ladder of social significance. Don’t trade lunches with the affluent and influential, those who will return the favour. Use it to validate and affirm the worth of those who don’t even register on the radar of the important. God has not blessed you so you can get more, God has blessed you so you can give it away. Because that’s God’s way. Imagine if God only gave to people he could get something from. That’s all of us out. That’s everyone out. That’s lights out for everything! But instead we are lavished with gifts from above every moment of our lives. So give yourselves, and your welcome and your hospitality to those who can’t give it back. It might be social suicide, but it is also whole-souled salvation. None of it will go unnoticed or unpaid. You can’t lose! Remember your worth! It will all come back to you, and so much more, in the world which is so true and good it lasts forever, God’s world.’