There is a great burning happening, a great conflagration -- far from our shores,perhaps, but not so far as to leave us unscathed. Because of greed and indifference, the Amazon is a disaster zone, with fire not only displacing tribal peoples but also countless plant and animal species. Unlike forest fires that erupt seasonally across the globe, this fire is threatening the very existence of humanity. Trees are the lungs of the world, but the land is being cleared to make way for crops and pastures. As the trees burn, hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 are being released into the air; if this continues, there will be a rise in global temperatures and a reduction in rainfall. What is happening in Brazil can affect weather patterns across the globe, bringing drought, famine and an increase in migration. As Christians and global citizens, let us call on the world's leaders to fight fire with wisdom and collaboration-- and let us pray for an end to the consumerism which has fueled the flames.
Then he said to the host who had invited him,
"When you hold a lunch or dinner, don't invite your friends or your brothers and sisters or relatives or wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Having grown up in a culture in which lunch was always a multi-course meal, starting with soup, pasta or salad, followed by a meat or fish entree, "cheese and biscuits," fresh fruit and dessert, I remember what it was like to sit at table for at least two hours while we navigated from course to course. As in many Mediterranean households, eating was not merely a physical exercise but a time for family connections. Even though, as a small child, I often became restless, wanting to "get down" from my chair while the adults enjoyed wine or after coffee liquors, I now look back with nostalgia at the very slowness of those lunches -- my father and grandfather savoring their drinks, my mother supervising the kitchen and making sure everyone was stuffed to capacity, my sisters and I exchanging kicks under the table while maintaining an air of innocence.... Ours was very much a "Victorian" colonial household. Conversation tended to be polite and reserved, and yet the meals themselves offered both comfort and security. What we didn't articulate through words, we communicated by eating together, by enjoying each other's company...
In Jesus' time, each meal was regarded as a precursor to God's Holy Banquet, representing fellowship with God. Walter Kaspar, in
Jesus the Christ,
writes that every meal was " a sign of the coming eschatological meal and the eschatological fellowship with God" (101). Feasting, then, was a sacred activity, a sign of God's presence in the company of the righteous. Of course, by keeping "bad company," and by insisting that the "riff-raff" of society be honored guests, Jesus turned this belief upside down; by eating with society's outcasts, he completely over-turned all notions of table fellowship. As Dominic Crossan points out, "the implication was that one could have all "classes, sexes, ranks, and grades all mixed up together" (
The Historical Jesus,
The scandalous implications of Jesus' attitude towards feasting was that sinners are welcome at God's Holy Table. Tax collectors and others who were "unclean" owing to their disreputable professions or because they had broken the Law frequented the tables at which he ate, giving rise to the question,
"Why does your Master eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
With our rushed schedules, "fast food" and TV dinners, many of us have become disconnected from the symbolic meaning of a shared meal and its sacred connotations. Some of us eat alone, at our desks, in our cars, in front of our TV's. Some of us eat with family members but spend our time texting or engaged with social media, or watching the evening news; and when we do invite others to eat with us, we are careful to select guests who belong to our "tribes" in terms of race, politics, religion, socio-economic status, etc. Today's Gospel invites us to extend our tables so that there is room for those who differ from us or whose company we don't particularly enjoy. As Jesus reminds us, God's Kingdom is a place of welcome for all peoples-- we cannot expect to find a place awaiting us if we have excluded others from our own tables!