One time when Jesus went for a Sabbath meal with one of the top leaders, all the guests had their eyes on him, watching his every move…Jesus turned to the host and said, “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbours, the kind of people who will return the favour. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favour, but the favour will be returned—oh, how it will be returned! – Luke 14
I thought of this sacred text when I read this news story yesterday on the CBC website.
One of my favorite stories in Philip Yancey’s excellent book What’s So Amazing About Grace comes from an article in The Boston Globe about an unusual wedding banquet:
Accompanied by her fiancé, a woman went to the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston and ordered a wedding banquet. The two of them pored over the menu, made selections of china and silver, and pointed to pictures of flower arrangements they liked. They both had expensive taste, and the bill came to $13,000. After leaving a check for half that amount as a down payment, the couple went home to flip through books of wedding announcements.
The day the announcements were supposed to hit the mailbox, the potential groom got cold feet. “I’m just not sure,” he said. “It’s a big commitment. Let’s think about this a little longer.”
When his angry fiancée returned to the Hyatt to cancel the banquet, the Events Manager could not have been more understanding. “The same thing happened to me, Honey,” she said, and told the story of her own broken engagement. But about the refund, she had bad news. “The contract is binding. You’re only entitled to $1,300 back. You have two options: to forfeit the rest of the down payment, or go ahead with the banquet. I’m sorry, Really, I am.”
It seemed crazy, but the more the jilted bride thought about it, the more she liked the idea of going ahead with the party – not a wedding banquet, mind you, but a big blowout. Ten years before, this same woman had been living in a homeless shelter. She had got back on her feet, found a good job, and set aside a sizable nest egg. Now she had the wild notion of using her savings to treat the down-and-outs of Boston to a night on the town.
And so it was that in June of 1990 the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston hosted a party such as it had never seen before. The hostess changed the menu to boneless chicken “in honor of the groom,” she said – and sent invitations to rescue missions and homeless shelters. That warm summer night, people used to peeling half-gnawed pizza off the cardboard dined instead on chicken cordon bleu. Hyatt waiters in tuxedos served hors d’oeuvres to senior citizens propped up by crutches and aluminum walkers. The homeless took one night off from the hard life of the sidewalks outside and instead sipped champagne, ate chocolate wedding cake, and danced to big-band melodies late into the night.
It is summer, the season of weddings and banquets and feasts. Let’s never forget the instructions Jesus gave to us about how to celebrate these occasions and how whom we invite says everything you need to know about our understanding of Christian grace, God’s unconditional love for us and others.