I remember tentatively approaching the lunch room because I did not know if I would have anyone to sit with or if I would be invited to sit at a table. The fear of being left out was unbearable; not being accepted was terrifying.
My fears subsided once someone reached out to me, or when I took a chance and reached out to someone else. I also remember, seeing those who were not popular, those who were not invited to a table. They sat alone and you felt their sadness.
I found it difficult to grasp that one human being could discard another to the shadows, to be ostracized because of your appearance, social status, or personality. I wanted to create a table large enough for everyone.
My son began a new school this year and I drove both he and my wife crazy. I obsessed on whether he would have someone to eat lunch with. My love is so deep for him, that I did not want my son to eat alone.
In today’s Gospel, we sense Jesus’ deep concern that no one is left alone. Jesus spent every waking moment reaching out to everyone he encountered. Wherever he goes, he pulls people close, he invites them in. He encourages all those around him to do the same. To both the included and excluded, he describes a wonderful Kingdom of God where everyone is welcome and no one sits alone. His words, his life give hope that no one is left behind.
In our Gospel, you sense a bit of exasperation in Jesus’ voice. He notices that a table is prepared and many are missing. He asks why? Why are you only eating with people you know? If you only spend time with those who act like you, look like you, think like you, go to the same schools, or shop in the same stores, how you will see the face of God. Invite all these people who will never receive an invitation. It is up to you.
Now on the surface, it is a wonderful message. Therein lies the problem with Jesus. He really messes everything up. It is easy to pretend to not understand what he is saying, because we know very well that the moment we understand, we have to act. Jesus makes radical demands on us. Jesus did not talk about bringing the kingdom of God in some far off time; he wants us to do it now.
A few months back, it was stated that – Jesus does not need any more admirers, he needs disciples. If we are to be disciples of Christ – can we can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did? Can we can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. At what point do our beliefs and our lives converge?
When Jesus enters this banquet, he does not focus on the setting or the food, he comments on those who are missing. Why? Because everyone mattered to Jesus, each person he encountered became part of him, and he part of them. An inherent sense within our being that each individual is for too precious to be excluded, from community, from love. He wants them included.
This is not a foreign feeling, it is part of who we are. When we see someone hurting or alone, we feel it. When we see a child lost, or an elderly person struggling, there is a pang that causes us to act. When we see someone on the outside looking in,–we want to bring them in. When you feel this inside, you have experienced God, perhaps without knowing it.
I recently read a story of five business people visiting New York. Their important meetings lasted longer than expected and they were late for dinner at a fancy restaurant. As they rushed to catch the waiting cab, they knocked over a stand of that contained the products and money of an elderly street vendor.
They apologized but continued to run toward the waiting cab. One stopped, turned around and helped the vendor, and found that the vendor was blind. The blind vendor softly said “thank you Jesus.” The man smiled and said “Yeah, he always helps me.” The elderly blind man responded, “No, are you Jesus.”
Our faith is most sacred when we live it, when we reach out to others. Our lives must shout our faith. When we do this people will know that we are followers of Christ, not by the cross we wear around our necks but by the love we carry within our hearts.
Throughout the Gospel, we see that Jesus’ heart breaks for those who are left out. He not only fed people, he stopped and invited them into his life. Jesus took time to know the poor and his life demonstrates that we must not only help the poor, we must know the poor? Because when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, poverty will come to an end.
And notice Jesus did not define poverty. Yes, the poor are those in our community who cannot afford a home, food, medication or clothes. They are the ones on the margins of society who will never be invited to the table, unless we welcome them to our table.
The poor are those children of God who are starving spiritually, physically and emotionally. Those not only those unloved by society, but unloved by themselves. The children of God who will never be invited to the table, unless we invite them into our lives.
The poor are those nameless faces we pass each day. Those lost because of illness, fractured relationships, loneliness, desperation. Those who know deep down, they will never be invited to the table, unless they happen to bump into Jesus, or maybe even a follower of Jesus who stops, reaches out and represents the love of Christ.
In our Gospel, Jesus asked his host, where are the poor? Now he is asking us -
If you only eat with those who you like, how will you show my love?
If you love only those who love you, how will you share my welcoming embrace
If we only invite to our table the people we know, how will we reflect the face of God?
When we invite someone into our church, into our lives, something holy happens. We’re making an effort to see beyond the surface appearances that we often judge people by. We’re making an effort to see each individual as God sees them.
When we invite someone in, we begin to see their faces, you will hear their voices. We acknowledge God in one another. When we welcome strangers to our table, we are welcoming God. We will not allow them to eat alone.
We have a beautiful table at St. Michael, our job is to prepare it, and then build the guest list. Through our Season of Listening, through our ministries, through our individual lives, let’s invite people in. Let’s prepare a table that consists of everyone, sinner, saint, citizen, convict, rich, poor, the young couple far from home, the single who eat alone, seniors who do not drive, teens who feel left out.
Let prepare a table for the straight, gay, married and divorced, the sick, the healthy, every color, shape and class imaginable. Let’s invite them in. When we prepare this big table we may get a taste that heavenly banquet that Jesus often spoke of. We may glimpse the Kingdom of God. When we prepare a big welcoming table for all, we know that we will have a place at that table, and the joy of knowing that no one will ever eat alone.