Monday, May 30, 2011

A Kingdom Banquet

The other day a tire shop in our neighborhood was celebrating 70 years of business. We heard that they had a band playing and were providing food (we’d go almost anywhere for free food) so a few of us wandered over that way. A friend of ours who is homeless had been hanging out with us, so he headed over as well. Kate, Matt, and I walked inside and one of the men working there offered us sandwiches and drinks. We gladly accepted and took them back outside where we sat on the steps to eat. Our homeless friend went in after us. A few moments later he emerged, empty handed. I asked him, “Didn’t you say you were hungry?” He nodded slowly, his lips a tight line across his face. “They told me it was a closed party.” He laughed, a tired laugh, one resigned to this outcome, having seen the situation too many times before.
The realization of what had just taken place slowly washed over me and I felt emotions rising up inside me like the buildup of a tidal wave. My friend had just been refused a meal because someone had looked at him and judged him, deeming him unworthy to take part in their celebration. I didn’t know what to say. “I’m so sorry.” The laugh again. “Welcome to my world.” He walked away, sketchbook in hand, to draw the band that had started playing. I turned to Kate. “Should we say something to them?” She didn’t reply, her brow furrowed in contemplation. Our friend left after a couple short minutes.
Matt walked inside. When he came back out Kate and I asked him if he had said something. He nodded. He had asked them, “Isn’t this a community event?” They said yes. “Well,” he said, “I came in here and got some food and then a friend of mine came in after me and you turned him away.” They gave some excuse about not having a lot of food and wanting to save it for customers. Well, we’re not customers and never will be. We didn’t finish our food after that. I called our friend and told him that we hadn’t left the situation alone, that Matt had gone in and said something to them. I invited him to join us for dinner. At first he was noncommittal, but then he said, “Yes. Yes, I will come to dinner, because I still have my Mission Year friends. They still love me.” And we do. His rejection at the tire shop was like a knife in my gut.
I was upset by this episode the rest of the afternoon. As we walked through our neighborhood I thought of the passage in Luke where Jesus talks about giving a banquet.
“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed…” (Luke 14:13-14)
I wished I could invite everyone to dinner. Anyone I saw who looked dirty or homeless or poor or sick. Anyone who might have been judged or turned away by the owners of the tire shop. I wanted to celebrate with them, to give them dignity and show them love.
Later, I read another passage:
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” (Proverbs 25:21)
Once again, I was convicted and aware of the bitterness and judgment in my own heart. I was angry at the people who had turned my friend away. They had become enemies to me. Yet we are commanded to love our enemies, a concept I have been wrestling with throughout this year. We are told to feed them when they are hungry, to give them water when they are thirsty. I began to picture a different kind of banquet – one that included not only the oppressed but the oppressors, not only our friends but our enemies. Jesus dined with the “sinners” and outsiders in society, but he also ate at the table of Pharisees, people who were watching and judging his every move. What does that look like for us?