Greetings, SBT Readers!
Whenever one nation colonized another, there was a tendency for the colonizers to view the indigenous peoples as "objects" -- as species to be analyzed, categorized and even put on display "back home" wherever "home" happened to be. Colonizer mentality always assumed that native peoples were "savages" lacking intelligence, "brutes" that required converting to Christianity and to European customs, conventions and ideals. Soon --especially when the subjugated people resisted-- curiosity turned to hatred, enslavement and even genocide. Little wonder that Gandhi is reputed to have said, "I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians."
Though colonialism is mostly a relic of the past, the mindset of looking at "differing others" as objects of either fascination or revulsion continues. As a result, those who are willing to reach out beyond their communities to "differing others" such as migrants, homeless populations, and the mentally ill, are often driven by the need to "help" or "save." This, of course, reflects a mindset that the "differing others" require helping or saving. As we think about welcoming the ostracized and alienated to our communities, we first need to discover what it is they really need, not what we imagine they might need. Instead of being helpers or saviors, we can then reach out as companions who are willing to learn rather than assume. In this encounter, there is no "power differential" -- on the contrary, we might even discover that those we serve bring amazing gifts of knowledge, wisdom and talent that will enrich our spiritually impoverished society.
Link to the Sunday Readings
After the master of the house has locked the door,
then you will stand outside knocking, saying,
'Lord, open the door for us.'
He will say in reply,
'I do not know where you come from.'
And you will say,
'We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.'
Then he will say,
'I do not know where you come from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!'
And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
and all the prophets in the kingdom of God
and you yourselves cast out.
And people will come from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last."
Lk 13: 22-30
"'Some of these I will take as priests and Levites,' says the LORD" (Is 66:21)
Today's readings offer a message of hope for all those who have experienced marginalization, either in society, or in the institutional church, or in both settings. What is clear from both the Isaian text and Luke's Gospel, is that God does not discriminate when it comes to the divine guest list. All are welcome to the feast, to God's Holy Mountain. Whether they come from the east or from the west, from the north or from the south, there is a place for them at God's Table. And whether they journey from Tarshish, Put and Lud, Mosoch, Tubal, Javan, or the distant coastlands, or whether they travel on horses, in chariots, in carts, upon mules or dromedaries, they will find a place to "recline"-- in other words, they will be afforded all the hospitality that honored guests might expect. On God's Holy Mountain, they will not serve but be served; moreover, some of these newcomers will become a priestly people, destined to share the Good News of God's Kingdom.
But these texts are not merely figurative; nor do they only point to the end of time. Rather, they raise up all those who have known the swollen belly and parched tongue, the aching heart and weary feet, the closed door and unsmiling face. They affirm all those who have had to bear labels of difference on account of race, language, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical appearance, neuro divergence, social status, and more. They establish that God's Kingdom is a place for social misfits while the elites who would bar their entry will find themselves locked out instead.
How might we translate this into contemporary terms? On a societal level, I think immediately of the millions of displaced peoples around the globe, who are seeking a new land. Having risked everything for the sake of freedom, safety and economic survival, they linger at hostile borders or stagnate in make-shift camps. If they are fortunate enough to cross-over into new territory, there they often encounter racism, exploitation, even violence. Fear, of course, is behind their exclusion. Those on the "right side" of the barbed wire fence or the "wall," fear for their jobs, their livelihood, their culture, their way of life, their racial "purity"; driven by a distorted sense of nationalism, they equate patriotism with keeping out the "undesirables" and maintaining the status quo.
Then there are the groups who are physically on the right side of the border but who are treated as pariahs. In the church, divorce is still something of a stigma while to be a member of the LGBTQIA+ community often means loss of access to spiritual/ religious resources such as the baptism of a child, the Christian burial of a loved one, and so forth. Instead of experiencing the loving support of a faith community, members of this group too often encounter hatred, rejection and condemnation. From the pulpit they learn that they are "disordered" and that diseases such as AIDS and Monkey-Pox are God's judgement against them.
And what does God really think? Jesus addresses this very issue in his response to the question, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" To paraphrase, those who consider themselves holier than thou and who work to exclude their brothers and sisters from the Table of the Lord are the ones who will be locked-out. The ticket to the banquet is Love and only "card-carrying" individuals will find they are on the guest list:
"For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last."