Proper 17C: guess who’s coming to dinner

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Gospels / Lectionary / New Testament / Old Testament / Pentateuch

Old Testament law dictates what can be eaten, and what cannot be eaten: lamb but no lobster, steak but no shrimp, summer vegetables but no swine. Of course, these rules seem odd and foreign to a Christian audience that happily and readily eats broiled lobster and bacon-wrapped shrimp. The odd-nature of these rules, and the fact that they seemingly have absolutely nothing to do with our lives and faith, contributes to the shunning of the Book of Leviticus – I mean, really, who reads it anymore? (unless you’re looking for a verse or two against homosexuality.)

But, the Book of Leviticus with all its rules governing a proper diet, and a proper wardrobe, and what to properly do if your house gets infested with mold (burn it down) actually has a very relevant spiritual message: holiness is about our ENTIRE lives. Holiness isn’t just about what we do on Sundays or when we’re on our knees. What we eat, how we dress, how we interact with our neighbors, our sex lives, and the state of our home (moldy or not) are all things that God cares deeply about.

The Old Testament also has rules about who you can be with – to what degree you can mix with people of other nationalities and faiths, and who you can and cannot marry. These rules were designed to keep Israel pure, so that when the world looked in on them they’d see a unified people honoring God with their whole lives.

Of course that never happened. And, of course, with the collapse of the dietary laws so the boundaries that kept different peoples from coming together around a table or around a marriage altar have similarly collapsed.

Of course, it wasn’t all that long ago even in America, where that wasn’t the case…

We don’t have any record of Jesus shunning the dietary restrictions. It seems like he kept a kosher kitchen and avoided the bacon-wrapped shrimp. But, we do have record of Jesus interacting with, talking to, and sharing a table with people who were outside the prescribed boundaries of the time.

And this got him in trouble.

He would talk to a woman at a well. He allowed someone apparently unsavory to wash his feet with her tears. And he ate with tax collectors and sinners.

It wasn’t the charge that was hung over his head when he was crucified—but his open acceptance of other people who were unacceptable to the religious authorities of the day was one of the clear reasons that he was hung on the cross.

And, not only was he not shy about it, but he also encouraged others to do the same. When we throw a party we’re to invite the riff-raff. And, when we are invited to a party we’re to sit with the riff-raff in the ‘lesser’ seats.

This is partly a teaching on hospitality. We’re to welcome all, and we’re to especially go out of our way to welcome those who are deemed unsavory and undesirable.

Boy is that hard. It’s especially hard when you don’t know any riff-raff. When you don’t see any around, and when you don’t even know where to find them.

And gosh, isn’t that the point?

But, this is also a teaching on humility. We are to know our place—not just in society, where our degree, or pedigree, or income dictates our social worth. But, we are to know our place in God’s Kingdom: infinitely loved, and call to love others with infinite love.

When we’re infinitely loved by the Creator of the Universe it really doesn’t matter where we sit. Or if we have a chair at all.

And, gosh…isn’t that the point too?