Earlier this month an Atlanta couple created a media stir by hosting a dinner for the homeless. This was not their original plan. Their daughter was supposed to marry on Sept. 15, but the wedding was called off. Saddled with a hefty, nonrefundable deposit for an exquisite dining hall complete with meals and entertainment for 200, Willie and Carol Fowler prayed about what to do.
The following morning, their prayers for clarity were answered. They contacted Hosea Feed the Hungry and made arrangements to shuttle 200 homeless persons to the banquet hall. The least of these would feast like honored guests.
The event was a great success with plenty of smiles all around. Atlanta’s homeless got a lavish meal and the Fowlers experienced what most praying people know: it is more blessed to give than receive. They didn’t hesitate to pass that message along.
What intrigues me the most about this event is how closely it echoes Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14. While attending a Sabbath meal, Jesus said to the Pharisee who invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Jesus also offered another teaching, this one about a host who prepared a feast and commissioned his servant to invite all the guests. Unfortunately, they all had reasons for opting out. So the host rewrote his guest list and redeployed his servant, saying, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame … and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.”
The question is: what role do we play?
The Atlanta story is a feel-good story. I don’t know much about the Fowler family. I don’t know if they’re committed Christians, liberal philanthropists, wealthy people accustomed to luxury or middle-class folk who scraped together enough funds to celebrate their daughter’s wedding in style.
Whatever the answer to those questions, their story is still suggestive of these parables, and invites us to see ourselves in them. The question is: what role do we play?
To be honest, I am troubled that my first inclination was to assume that I play the role of the generous host and that the Fowlers are role models for important people like me. But who am I kidding? I am not among the middle or upper echelons of society who will be hosting elaborate banquets and considering which well-to-do guests might enhance my social standing. Nor will my name ever be found on the Who’s Who guest list of my town.
Truth be told, I am the one who gets invited because Jesus cares for the least, even me. I get to be included where I normally wouldn't belong. I am the dog beneath the table that licks up the scraps after the children have had their fill.
I am glad that God is teaching people like the Fowlers to revise their guest list. But the good news of Luke 14 is that those of little account, people like me and perhaps you, ever get invited at all.