“Partaking in the Margins”
Message for World Communion Sunday, October 7, 2018
by Rev. Jose Luis Casal,
Director of Presbyterian World Mission
Scripture: Luke 14: 13-23
Today we are celebrating World Communion Sunday. Christians around the world gather together to participate in the Lord’s Supper. In this day we emphasize the inclusive nature of this sacrament that goes beyond idiomatic, cultural, racial, social, economic, political and gender barriers. The churches create innovative liturgies with texts in different languages, songs from different countries and the participants in the liturgies are people of different ages, genders, races with different social, economic and political backgrounds. And here in the Presbyterian Church USA, we invite everyone to partake with us around the table despite of our “cosmetic” differences. And I am saying “cosmetic” because there are some other theological beliefs or differences that create distinctions. Still today, some churches don’t allow other Christians to partake in the Lord’s Suppers and just offer the Sacrament to the members of their churches, others limit or denied the participation of children, others don’t allow women and LGBTQ community to consecrate elements or officiate in communion services. All of this means that there is still a long way to go ahead of us.
Today I will not talk about these realities mentioned before. I want to talk about some other expressions of exclusion that are sometimes infatuated with other concepts and ideas
Many times, consciously or unconsciously, we make the church an exclusive club for those who we consider “inclined to our religious expression.” When we think that someone “is not a good candidate” for our church, we transform the church into a selective club and the Lord’s Supper in a membership banquet. God’s invitation is wide and open regardless our cosmetic or theological differences.
The text of the Parable of the Great Banquet that appears in Luke 14: 13-25 is an excellent passage to reflect on the nature of the Lord’s Supper and address the elitist approaches and conceptions.
The scenario is this: Jesus was at the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath, and he noticed that some of the invited guests at the house were seeking the more honored places to sit. Jesus had just healed a man with dropsy and taught a brief lesson on serving others. Jesus then says that those who serve others “will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14). At the mention of the resurrection, someone at the table, for sure a Jew and maybe another Pharisee, said, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (verse 15). In reply, Jesus tells the Parable of the Great Banquet, a didactic story that pretend to replace and rebuild the concept of meals in the Jewish culture and society applying his radical hermeneutical approach.
Here is the narrative of the parable, “a man planned a large banquet and sent out invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to contact each of the invited guests, telling them that all was ready and the meal was about to start. One after another, the guests made excuses for not coming. One had just bought a piece of land and said he had to go see it (verse 18). Another had purchased some oxen and said he was on the way to yoke them up and try them out (verse 19). Another gave the excuse that he was newly married and therefore could not come (verse 20). When the master of the house heard these flimsy excuses, he was angry. He told his servant to forget the guest list and go into the back streets and alleyways of the town and invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (verse 21). The servant had already brought in the down-and-out townspeople, and still there was room in the banquet hall. So, the master sent his servant on a broader search: “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full” (verses 22-23).”
The ideological and theological concept behind the statement of the man at the table that prompted the parable relates to the popular notion that only Jews would be part of banquet in the Messianic Kingdom. Therefore, Jesus’ parable purpose is to rebuild that notion proposing a new radical approach extending the invitation to everybody and not only one selected group. We may consider that the master of the house is God, and the great banquet is the kingdom, (this image was suggested by the man who spoke at the table). The invited guests are the Jewish people. The kingdom was prepared for them, the Jewish rejected him. The Gospel of John says, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).
The rejection of the invitation pulls the trigger to open the door to those rejected and marginalized by the Jewish religion, those called by the Pharisees “unclean” and under God’s curse. Jesus’ radical hermeneutics affirms that the kingdom is available even to those considered “unclean.” His involvement with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners in general brought critics and condemnation from the Pharisees and the legalistic religion of his time. The fact that the master in the parable sends the servant out of the limits of the town and to the margins of the society to persuade everyone to come indicates that the entrance to the Kingdom with a seat at the banquet would be extended to every person without distinctions.
The teachings of this parable are applicable to the Christian community. Dr. Drew G. I. Hart, professor of Theology and author said, “The kingdom of God is not automatic for a gathered people who call themselves Christian, nor is it confined by the limits of Christian gatherings.” But he continues with this challenging concept: “the kingdom of God is anywhere King Jesus is present in any particular place. Jesus embodied the reign of God all by himself! That means that wherever Jesus is present, the kingdom of God has come near!… the kingdom is a community where the poor and oppressed are in privileged positions.” This reminds us the parable of the Great Banquet. Dr. Hart continues, “… the Church should be a place that Jesus is truly present, a space in which people are reorienting their lives and social arrangements according to the reality of the Messiah… [a place] that has rearranged its life around the Lord Jesus!” But we know that this is not always the case, we know the church is imperfect and many times fail to be obedient and responsive to the call of Jesus. Dr. Hart reminds us, “…Christian communities in the United States that privilege white male, wealthy, or educated people hegemonically and hierarchically from the top-down reflect communities in which the reign of God is being replaced for something more in tune to the current oppressive social order.” But he also gives us the solution “if we are going to take Jesus seriously:” The presence of the kingdom is clearly tied to the socially marginalized people being restored and honored at the center of the community.”
The basic message of the Parable of the Great Banquet (and this is also the basic message for the Christian community) could be stated this way: Let’s restore the marginalized and discriminated people around the table. Let’s invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” to the table but let’s translate this update this mandate with the names of the new discriminated and marginalized people of our American society. Let’s invite to the table the silenced voices of abused and discriminated women, let’s invite to the table the persecuted immigrants and undocumented communities, let’s give a place in the table to the unaccompanied minors and children that have been separated from their parents, let’s invite to the table the African-American young men and women who are victims of violence and racial discrimination, let’s invite to the table the members of the LGBTQ community who have been rejected by hatred groups and also by Christian communities, let’s invite to the table our Native-American communities who were disrespected and lost their lands and freedom as nations, let’s invite to the table our brothers and sisters of Puerto Rico who continues suffering the consequences of Hurricane Maria in the most rich and powerful country of the world. And because this table is wide and open we will have space to go beyond our borders to invite the suffered men and women from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Central America, Mexico, Cameroon, South Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Iran, Syria, South and North Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, the refugee camps across Europe and Middle East. Yes, dear friends Lord’s Table is big enough to seat everyone around the table. Our tables are small, but God’s table is wide and open, and we cannot contain God’s table into the limits of this building. We need to move our table to the place where the marginalized people are present and partake with them.
In March of this year it was celebrated in Arusha, Tanzania the World Conference of Mission and Evangelism and the main work document defined marginalized people as those who “have God-given gifts that are under-utilized because of disempowerment and denial of access to opportunities and/or justice. Through struggles in and for life, marginalized people are reservoirs of the active hope, collective resistance, and perseverance that are needed to remain faithful to the promised kingdom of God.” We are not going there to teach them. We are going there to learn from them how to reach out to the world and transform the world that includes our communities and churches.
We need to understand this call in the proper way. Partaking in the margin is not a rescue operation. Jesus alerted us in Matthew 25 that He is present in the “little ones” who are suffering, who are hungry, who are naked, who are in jail. Jesus is present and alive in those who we are inviting to seat around the table and we don’t need to save Jesus, Jesus is the one that saves us.
This means, let’s partake in the margins because the margin is the place where God’s people are present. Let’s partake in the margins because the margin is the place from where God is sending us to do mission and reach out to the world.
Let’s partake in the Margin and let’s do mission from the margin.