Last weekend I helped facilitate the annual retreat for a board of a national organization. We met in a beautiful resort setting on the east coast. Over the past several years the organization has turned more and more of its attention and its resources toward urban matters, especially those relating to poverty and community development and organizing.
On Saturday evening we enjoyed a wonderful banquet. I gathered from comments made during the evening that the meal had become an annual tradition with the board. It was a most enjoyable event filled with conversation, the presentation of great thoughts, beautiful music and delicious food.
At one point during the evening, the master of ceremonies read this short paragraph from the Gospel of Luke:
"He [Jesus] said also to the one who had 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." (14:12-14)
The reading fit the evening. At each table a place had been set for an "empty chair." The place for a missing person at each table prompted the group to discuss people who weren't present, including the poor and those who live with basic needs unmet on a daily basis.
As the words of Jesus were read, I couldn't help but notice the reactions of those who were serving our tables. They stood along the back wall of the room, listening intently. They exchanged glances with one another and nodded their heads in agreement.
The "snapshot" from the weekend was poignant and instructive. Most likely some of these folks understand very well the challenges associated with poverty, low wages and long hours.
They certainly understood the truth Jesus spoke. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think there is something for churches to learn just here. Much of church life is largely incomprehensible to the "unchurched." But the clear, simple, obvious words of Jesus connect with everyone. I have come to believe that much of the activity of the church is designed to complicate this compelling and challenging simplicity! It is as if we need to be protected from the bright light of this teacher's convicting wisdom.
At the end of the evening I noticed most of the board members interacting with these hard working waiters to express appreciation. They also answered questions about their organization that these curious observers threw at them. It was interesting observing this interchange.
Jesus was correct, of course. We need to learn to throw different kinds of dinner parties in this country. And they need to go beyond the typical meals we often arrange "for the poor and the homeless."
People who battle poverty need more than a meal. They need an invitation into the lives of those who never need to worry about the next meal, the next day at work or the next evening of sleep and relaxation.
"The poor" in America need to know that they have a place at the table and that they are very welcome to take it. They need to know that the nation's dinner conversation will never be complete without their presence.
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Larry James' Urban Daily
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor." Written and edited by the President & CEO of CitySquare. Please visit CitySquare.
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