The Heart's Banquet

This morning I picked up the mail and found in a monthly periodical Hospitality this highly stimulating article. Rather than try to summarize it in a blog I decided to post the essay in its entirety so as to include all of the nuances and content the author uses to make her point. I have preached on this text hundreds of times but have never looked at it this way. I hope you find this writing as fascinating and illuminating as I did.

The Heart’s Banquet, By Catherine Meeks (In: The Open Door Community - Hospitality & Resistance in the Catholic Worker Movement, Vol. 35, No. 8)

"The Gospel contains Jesus’ parable about how one should behave when invited to a wedding banquet. He observed how the guests were entering the room and placing themselves in the seats of honor without waiting for an invitation to do so. He went on to say, 'When you hold a lunch or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your 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.' (Luke 7:1, 7-14)

"While this is good advice from Jesus about the way to keep the ego from causing you to put yourself in a higher position than you deserve, as well as making it clear that we are on this earth to serve others, I would like to take a look at a deeper meaning of this passage. It appears that, as is always true with Jesus, he is talking about something far beyond simple banquet behavior.

"Another way to look at this passage is from the perspective that Jesus is talking about our inner community. We have many parts to ourselves and they are not always in concert with one another. When we think about our inner community, who do we find living there? Are there parts of ourselves that tend to be elevated above other parts? For instance, do we have some behaviors such as being generous that make us excuse a more negative behavior such as being greedy? Do we allow our ego to keep that greedy person hidden and excuse our greed with the notion that we are going to be generous enough to compensate for it?

"We can pay attention to our blind, poor, crippled and lame inner community members. Who are they? How do they present themselves in our daily lives? Have we caught glimpses of them and, if so, how did we greet them? Did they get any type of welcome? Were we willing to invite them to the table so we could acquaint ourselves with them and understand them better? Or did we push them aside and make every effort to send them away?

"A major part of the reason that we find it difficult to confront the lame, crippled, blind and poor persons in the street comes from the fact that we have been unwilling to see those parts of ourselves that reflect the same state of being. There are none of us who are totally awake. There are parts of ourselves that are unknown to us or at the very least not well known. We have limitations. We are crippled in so many ways. We are poor in spite of the fact that we might consider ourselves unlike the poor who are forced to live in the hovels that our culture has created. We are not that different when we are willing to confront our poverty of spirit.

"These parts of our inner community have to be engaged in order for us to live our lives in peace and with authenticity. Whenever we allow ourselves to see our many selves and learn to befriend them in ways that make it possible for them to be included in our understanding of who we really are, it brings us peace. The highly exalted ego is not allowed to sit on the throne in the heart and mind of the person who is conscious of their inner community. The place that ego holds is informed by this consciousness, which helps to maintain a healthy balance. The person who pays attention to their inner community members is able to take a lower seat at the banquet and wait to see if an invitation comes from the host to take a higher seat. But that person does not assume that the invitation will come and at times is surprised by it, because it is truly unexpected. Such a person does not take offense in their encounters with those that the culture has named as “other.” This is the result of having honestly confronted one’s inner community and the parts that create limits. When those inner limitations are faced, those in the outer community who embody limitations can be welcomed.

"So it seems that Jesus wants us to pay attention to these deeper issues so that we can offer hospitality to the unlikely among us, and do it with great joy because we have met them before in our own inner community. This makes the banquet of the heart possible; and when we create that type of inner community spirit, we shine the light of that spirit into the darkness of the world." 

Catherine Meeks is a community and wellness activist and an active member of the Open Door Community. She taught African American Studies at Mercer University and is the retired Clara Carter Acree Distinguished Professor of Socio-Cultural Studies at Wesleyan College.