It’s amazing when you are suddenly given a gift – and you were not expecting it! It happened this morning at the Mass in St George’s Cathedral. The Dean, the Very Revd Hosam Naoum, was presiding. We kept All Saints Day on Sunday, so this morning we had the alternative readings which meant that we heard Luke 14.15-24.
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “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 the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’
It’s a reading I know so well but one that I have had problems with because of the way it concludes and especially the use of that word, ‘compel’. In a place like Jerusalem where faith communities are often in such an aggressive situation it hardly feels like a positive way of looking at mission. The invitation is great but the compulsion seems inappropriate.
So it was great that Hosam made three points in his homily after we had heard this story read to us again.
Firstly he said, even though those invited sent their apologies the dinner wasn’t cancelled. The dinner happened; it was the guest list that changed. This had never been something I’d thought about. So often when I’m trying to plan an official dinner round at the Deanery and we receive lots of apologies from the initial guest list, my PA and I will say to each other ‘Shall we cancel it? Is it worth going ahead?’ The God who invites us never thinks like this. The dinner, the banquet is going to happen!
Secondly, the slave after doing what he was told to do comes back and says ‘There is still room.’ There is always room at the dinner, the banquet to which God is inviting us. The spaciousness reflects the graciousness of God. My hospitality has so many limits placed on it – how big is the table, how many plates do I have, how many people can I stand having round – this is not how God is, hospitality is limitless.
Thirdly, ‘there is something’, said the Dean, himself a Palestinian, ‘called APH – Aggressive Palestinian Hospitality!’ We have to read the end of the parable with this understanding. If you are eating with a Palestinian family you will be told ‘You MUST eat!’ There is no argument, the hospitality is real hospitality, generous and there is a passionate way of making sure that you enjoy yourself and leave satisfied.
The dinner will happen, there is always room, you must come. The generosity and hospitality of God knows no bounds.
God of the banquet,
may the poverty of my hospitality
be challenged and changed
by the richness of the invitation
you make to us.