When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
- Luke 14:7-14
I cannot quite understand why a man should wish to know more people than he can make real friends of.
- S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
How many real friends do you have? It depends on where you are on the extrovert / introvert scale if you give a quick answer. Extroverts make friends easier than introverts, but the introvert may have just as many close friends. If you search for that friend that is equal or maybe closer than family, you will find few. But how many Facebook friends do you have? Maybe we won’t go as far as C. S. Lewis, not knowing someone unless we can be BFFs (Best Friends Forever). But when we have thousands of ‘friends’? How many have you met face-to-face? If you are moving, who will be there to load the truck?
I will admit, I have a few Facebook friends that I may hardly know. There are some that I barely know. There are some that have such extreme ideological differences that if I had not graduated with them… Yet, Facebook is a great way to keep in touch.
My son told me that Facebook is for the friends that you know. Twitter is for the friends that you haven’t met, yet. I have 150 Facebook friends (high school classmates and associated friends, family, work associates, and church friends), but only 22 Twitter followers. Yet, how many do I know?
The scripture from Luke parallels a lesson I had in the Army. When you go to a formal dinner, go to the middle of the table to look for your nametag. Then, start looking toward either side until you find your place. Formal dining requires the most important guest to be next to the host, followed by the second most next to the host’s spouse, etc. My only time at this type of gathering, I went to the middle of the table and I was shocked to find my name with my wife next to me. I was a first lieutenant. There were a lot of ‘butter bars’ (second lieutenants – gold bar instead of silver) who had less rank, less time in the service, less time in that organization. I was also part of the night’s entertainment. Yet, I smiled, held the chair for my wife (not a common thing, but this was formal dining), and sat, extremely humbled. Since I was in the Lt. Colonel’s wife’s song and dance troupe, I might have looked for my name at her end of the table. The humbling would have included embarrassment if I had. (By the way, Colonel’s wife tried to teach me the basics of dance and gave up. I was the troupe’s clown, court jester, and over-all comic relief, but with two left feet.)
Jesus went on to say that we should invite those who cannot repay to dinner. In this tit-for-tat world, we forget what Jesus was saying. We pat the commander on the back, so that we can get closer to him when we dine. We organize the plant manager’s golf tournament so that we’ll leapfrog others for the next promotion. I can’t remember who said that there was no such thing as a truly selfless good deed.
I have about 100 ‘friends’ in a game that I play online. I have no idea who any of them are. I visit their site and help them gain more coins when they complete a task. They help me as well, yet each time you help’ you are rewarded. On the surface, it seemed that the game was teaching people what true friendship was (helping others), but it is never a truly selfless good deed. You are always getting some kind of an in-game reward for everything that you do. You cannot simply do as Jesus commanded, to help others in private, without a thought of reward.
As for inviting people to supper who can’t return the favor, my wife volunteered for a few years cooking supper for a charity that housed families (that qualified) in churches while they were homeless and looking for a home. I was her ‘pack mule’ and table setter. Some of the families had homes or apartments that were destroyed by natural disasters. Others had more mundane reasons for being between homes. She’d cook all day. I would help pack everything in the car and transport it to the church. When my wife cooks for 15, she will have enough for 25. You never know if there is someone who just will not eat asparagus (for example). And sometimes, the instructions from the charity would be late, including food allergy information. We learned to be flexible.
Each time that you met 3-4 families, you’d pray that you’d never see them again. Not because you didn’t like them, but because you hoped they would find a home before our church rotated back again. We worked hard for one day’s meal, but they were sleeping on cots in Sunday school rooms for weeks and even months. They were sharing a shower with 2-3 other families. There were people of all colors and a wider range of economic backgrounds than you’d think. They had to get up early to be bussed to the charity where they caught another bus to go to work, while the children caught their bus to go to school, unless homeschooled. Their lives had been turned upside down because their apartment roof caved in (for example).
As my wife became weaker, we had to quit. Delivering food on schedule was imperative. If we didn’t deliver, they would go hungry. When you were having days when you didn’t feel the energy to cook supper for yourself, you wouldn’t be fair to volunteer to cook for others.
Another example, I knew a friend who would visit Atlanta once each year. He had business there. I think it was the company main office, and he went to an annual meeting. While he was there, he’d take a day off from work and visit a seedy part of town. He knew that if he gave the pan-handler a few dollars, the odds were against the pan-handler buying food. Instead he’d ask one and then the next to go to a local diner for a meal with him. When he finally got someone to agree, he’d go to the diner with the person, let them have whatever they wanted on the menu, and he’d talk about Jesus. He might buy the pan-handler a new coat or a new pair of shoes, but even then, those new things could be traded for something related to their addiction. But sometimes, he’d find people that had no addictions. They were simply down on their luck. Sometimes, the people would not pay much attention to my friend, but other times, my friend and his new companion would sit in the diner for hours, discussing and reading scripture.
Again, there was a church in Denver, CO that took ten people from skid row each year. They’d house them, train them, and clothe them. They had strict rules about drugs and alcohol. In the end, about half returned to the streets, and only a few went into the workforce and got their own homes. And most years, there was one who joined the church that had helped him / her get own their feet. For those churches looking for more members, they’d reject something like this that costs so much for a 10% success rate.
Jesus calls us, in this scripture, to do things with a guaranteed worldly success rate of 0%. We aren’t here to increase the membership of the church. We’re here to find the lost, so that they might find Jesus.
C. S. Lewis was one of the Inklings. He knew and loved the friends he met at the Eagle and Child pub to discuss important matters of God and literature. But he had one friend that he spent a lot of time and effort getting to know on a deeply personal level, Jesus.
Joseph M. Scriven wrote these words:
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
- What a Friend We Have in Jesus, verse 1