How to Rock Christian Fellowship?

How to Rock Christian Fellowship?

“And He also went on to say 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, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite  the poor, the crippled,  the lame, the blind’” (Luke 14:12-13, NAS).

The scene of the passage is taking place on the Jewish Sabbath, at a house of one of the Pharisees, and Jesus was the invited Rabbi of the Sabbath (14:1). After healing a person with swelling condition (14:2), they gathered for fellowship to share bread with one another. Here, the structure of the passage is simple. Verse 12 is about a negative command and its consequence and v. 13 is about a positive command and its consequence. In my NAS version, the word, invite, appears four times, twice as general statement and twice as command. When it appears four times in a short passage, you know it begs our attention. As you know, Jesus’ teaching was somewhat different from the philosophical and religious schools of the day, and the teaching in the passage was definitely against the mainstream. In v. 12, we have this award teaching. Jesus is commanding us not to invite our friends, family and rich neighbors. Let’s get this straight. In Greek, the tense of the verb is present, so it should be interpreted as, “don’t continue to invite your family, friends, and rich people only!”

Here, Jesus is actually pointing out the staled and selfish party culture. During the Roman Greco world, when hosts threw a party, it was a means to gain their greedy benefit and a means for entertainment. Thus, they only invited wealthy, popular, and influential individuals who can meet their needs. If you did not have something to contribute to the host, you were not invited. Individuals who were in the low socio-economic class were not invited to those parties. Sure, there were few times when wealthy and influential individuals invited the marginalized, but the purpose of the invitation was to show their guests that they were generous individuals. It was superficial invitation for reputation and popularity, as many politicians visit homeless shelters during their elections only.

Even for the Jews of the day who received the covenant of grace embraced the ego-centric nature of fellowship. Their party music and laughter blocked their ears to hear the agony of the marginalized. Their clean cloth, beautiful jewelries, and abundant food on the tables blinded their eyes to see the bruises and scars of their neighbors. They hardened their hearts from responding to God’s desperate callings for mercy and justice. What was at the center of God’s way of fellowship was replaced by the pleasure seeking principle. In v. 12, Jesus says that the temporal, selfish gain will be their reward. Then, what is the principle of Christian fellowship? I want to dive deeper and share with you the spiritual principle that is below the surface of the face value of serving others in needs.

In v. 13, Jesus say, applying the same Greek grammar, when you throw a party, not once or twice, but continuously “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” and that was not an ordinary invitation.  In our days, it would be people with physical and mental disabilities, people experiencing dementia, Alzheimer, and severe sickness, people living in the nursery and on the street and homeless shelter, people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, people of ethnic minorities, illegal and legal immigrants, and victims of social injustice and racism. They were the victims of false ideas and misinterpreted religions. During the time, physiognomic philosophy taught that physical traits were the indicators of the character of the inner soul. Being disabled meant having disturbed and wicked souls. Another school of philosophy saw morbidity and poverty as curse. At the public level, any form of mental abnormality was regarded as a sign of demonic possession. When disabilities were recognized in infancy, they were justifiably killed. People with disabilities were on display and mocked in village fairs. Greek religions saw sickness and material misfortune as signs of the ill will of the gods.

In the most conservative Jewish group known as Essene, who lived in the Qumran community and who proclaimed the authority of the Scripture and in the moderate Jewish communities, those people with disabilities were rejected from participating in fellowship and in serving the worship ceremonies, because they believed individual sin or sin of their parents was the cause of their challenges, not the original sin of Adam and Eve. In John 9:2, this is why when Jesus’ disciples saw a man blind from birth, they asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, him or his parents?” A negative and evil understanding of disability continued. Luther in his book Table Talk explicitly regarded “all dangerous diseases” as “blows of the devil.” John Locke regarded them as not human. Since individuals with challenges were not considered as human, they lacked the potential for eternal life.

They had it all wrong. Those who are marginalized of our society and community are our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and friends. Human beings are not defined by social status, age, citizenship, sexuality, intelligence, culture, job, wealth, ability, or race. We are defined according to one God, our triune Creator who is sovereign, all-knowing, loving and merciful. The words of God say that all human beings are equally, specially, and uniquely made in God’s image. We are precious in His eyes and we deserve to be cared, respected and loved, nothing less.

When we consider the cultural and historical background of the passage, Jesus’ command was an extraordinary invitation for his audience and for our context. Jesus knew that extraordinary invitation would make people feel uncomfortable and knew our anxieties and our fear towards people who are different from us. He knew that inviting them to our church and fellowship would take more energy and commitment. We might need to pick them and drop them off. Our church might smell funky and like alcohol. They might spill food, drink, or discharge in our building.  We will need more volunteers and financial resource. We might even have to install an automatic door button for one person who is in wheelchair and hire a sign language interpreter. Our members may complain, worry about the safety of their children, and even stop coming to the church. We will not reap the quick reward for all our service and sacrifice. If we apply business principles and strategies, the numbers won’t work, and it will be a bad business. And the more we rely on that business principle, the more we will distance our ministry and relationship from the principle of Christian fellowship. But, the Son of God still commanded the extraordinary invitation and he is still commanding us to invite those people in tremendous challenges.

Today, God teaches us that extraordinary invitation is the principle of Christian fellowship, because God loved us unconditionally. God loves us, sinners who deserve death and condemnation, not according to our goodness or our good deeds, or good looking for my case. Whether you are white, black, yellow, or brown, male or female, poor or rich, abled or disabled, sick or healthy, married or single, a millennial or a baby boomer, a Democrat or a Republican, an adulterer, a liar, or a thief, Christ the Son of God invited us unconditionally into his eternal koinonia. And we are to invite others unconditionally with extraordinary invitation into our lives, worship services and fellowship that celebrates our salvation in Christ.

Even though Christians were not perfect, extraordinary invitation was the foundation of Christian fellowship. As early as the late first century, Ignatius of Antioch regarded the Christian community’s concern for and support of those in need as “the distinguishing mark of the real Christian.” During the fourth century, Basil the Great one of the great fathers of the Western and Eastern Church built a hospital caring for the destitute, stranger, orphan, leper, sick, and elderly, whereas the world excluded them and disregarded them as useless and unworthy. In this book, The Rise of Christianity, the author writes sociologically how Christianity so rapidly and radically grew. In the Roman world, whenever there was an epidemic, everyone left to survive. Unfortunately, those with disabilities and sickness could not escape the city. Unlike those who fled, Christians stayed and helped them, enduring fear and anxiety together and even risking their lives. Women were abused physically, psychologically, and sexually, but had a safe place of healing and comfort in Christian community. Extraordinary invitation still is the principle of Jesus movement.

I believe that extraordinary invitation is the orthodoxy and the orthopraxis recorded in the life transforming Scriptures. It is our courageous parade of proclaiming the lordship of Jesus Christ on the boulevard of the broken dreams and broken world. When the extraordinary invitation becomes part of our fellowship, it will comfort and inspire the broken spirits living under the helpless and hopeless circumstances. It will penetrate the stiffed and hardened hearts of this lost generation. That is the principle of Jesus movement, and that is how we rock our fellowship.

ReflectionJ.D. Kim