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“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 : 12-14
How about taking Jesus’ words literally?
This is the fascinating story of Tim Cain and his wife Abbey who followed up on Jesus’ unusual call to feast with the poor.
Feasting with the poor
Par Tim Cain
What I love about Luke 14 is Jesus comes to destroy our distinctions. In this text, He says you don’t need to find some poor people and figure out how you can serve them. This text is not saying the next time Thanksgiving comes around instead of celebrating it with your family, why don’t you go and volunteer at a soup kitchen like the President does. That’s not what Jesus is saying.
What He is saying is this: When you normally are having a meal at your house, and you’ve got your friends and your family and your relatives, and they’re all coming over, don’t stop. Don’t stop there. Also, invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Invite people who normally, that you would ignore. Invite people who have nothing to pay you back. Invite people who are hurting. Invite them into your home and around your table just like you would invite your family.Maybe we would take that, and we would say, okay. Okay a couple of times a year, I can do this. I’ll give a pep talk to my family. We’ll work it all in. We’ll all kind of know what’s coming, and then we’ll do this. But He says, no, no, no. When you do this, don’t think about it as a service project.
Everyday Meal vs. Feast
I want you to notice something crazy. Look at verse 12.
“He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.’”
In verse 12, you know what Jesus is talking about? He’s talking about a normal dinner. He uses the word for dinner or banquet. Right? You see those words? Those are the normal words for a meal in the Greek language. Jesus is talking about supper. He’s talking about dinner. He’s talking about lunch. He’s talking about a normal meal.
Then you get to verse 13, and the poor are invited. And do you see what Jesus does in verse 13? He changes the word.
“‘But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’”
Now the only difference between the meal in verse 12 and verse 13, is that in verse 13, the poor are there. That’s the only difference. The food’s not different. The occasion is not different. But Jesus thinks that difference, the difference between the poor being present and the poor being absent is so big that you can’t use the same word for those meals. They’re not the same thing. The one is normal. The one everybody does. The other’s a feast.
I mean Jesus basically comes, and He says, “What is it that makes something a feast?” I bet you ask most people, and what makes something a feast is the food. Or maybe what makes something a feast is the occasion. Jesus says no. The food doesn’t make a feast and neither does the occasion. The company makes a feast. I don’t care what you’re eating; if the poor are there, it’s a feast.
In this passage, Jesus is calling us to break down the distinctions. He is calling us to invite the poor. You see what He’s doing? That’s why I’m saying, break down distinctions. He’s calling us to invite the poor into the parts of our lives normally reserved for friends, family, and rich neighbors. So food is His example, but just think whatever parts of your life you normally reserve only for people like you; those are the parts He wants you inviting the poor into.
You see this passage, it’s about a lot more than food. It’s about relationship. The passage is about treating the poor and the crippled and the lame and the blind with the same sense of love and honor and respect and appreciation that you have for your friends, your rich neighbors, and your relatives.
One woman who was stuck in poverty, told the person who interviewed her, “I know people do a lot for me. But what I really want is someone to be my friend.” What this woman longed for was a friend. She wanted to sit at the table and eat with someone, instead of standing on the other end of the table to receive food from someone.
That’s what Jesus is calling us to in this verse. He’s calling us to open our eyes and to invite people who may have nothing to offer us in our minds into a relationship. And like I said, I already qualified it enough, but I’m not trying to be hard on soup kitchens. Without soup kitchens, the poor would starve. We need soup kitchens. It’s a great thing if you work at a soup kitchen and if you serve at a soup kitchen. It’s great.
The poor also need friends. It’s a lot easier for them to find soup kitchens than friends. Yet, in this passage, Jesus is calling us to be friends. These verses have had a radical impact on my life and the life of my family and our church over the last nine years. In fact, I’ve seen more walls broken down through the application of this verse than I have in anything else we’ve ever done as a church. At our church, we call this feasting with the poor.
It all started back in 2009. We’d just moved from Minnesota to El Cajon. I’d never even been to El Cajon until I moved there to plant a church. My wife was working at Starbucks at the time. One day, I went to visit my wife while she was working. Outside there was a homeless guy sitting and begging for some money, so I invite him in. We sit down at the table. His name’s Delbert, “Del”. And he’s 70-something years old. He’s a Vietnam vet. He’s an African-American guy. He’s got some stories.
We sit there. I buy him a coffee. We’re talking, and after a while, he finally tells me that Friday, February 6, 2009 (that Friday) was his birthday. “My birthday’s coming up,” he says. So then, I don’t know what I was thinking, but I go, “Del, what are you doing for your birthday?” And he just gave me this blank stare. I mean he’s homeless, and so he just stared at me.
I’m uncomfortable with silence and with blank stares. So I followed up with, “Do you have any friends?” And of course, that just deepens the stare, and I realized, that was probably a second bad question. So finally, I decided, instead of trying to lead him to my idea through questions, which wasn’t working, I would just tell him my idea.
I said, “No, Del. Sorry, sorry. Dude. Here’s what I’m saying.” I was like, “Listen, I was just thinking. Why don’t you invite all your friends to my house this Friday night, and we’ll have a birthday party?” I was like, “My wife will make spaghetti. I’ll buy you a cake. We’ll celebrate your birthday. It’ll be fun.”
He was like, “I like that idea. That sounds great.” I was like, “I’ll pick you up at Starbucks. However many trips you need. Just bring everybody here. I’ll pick you up. We’ll go to my house. Birthday party.” He’s like, “All right, all right.”
So he leaves, and my wife and I get in the car to leave a little later, and she’s like, “I saw you met a friend there.” She’s kind of laughing with me. I was like, “Yeah, yeah.” She’s like, “What did you guys talk about?” I was like, “Oh, you’ll never believe what we talked about. I invited him and all of his friends over for his birthday on Friday. I told him you’d make spaghetti.”
And she just starts laughing. And I can tell something about her laugh – she thinks I’m kidding. I’d been married two years at the time, and I was smart enough to know that when my wife thinks I’m kidding, I don’t tell her anything differently. So she thought I was kidding, and that just told me she just wasn’t quite ready for what I just did. So I just kind of let it go.
Then Friday morning came around, and we woke up, and she didn’t have work that day. So before I got up to go to work, I was like, “Babe, that thing I told you the other day. That was real. Del is really coming over with those friends tonight. So we better figure out something.” So she’s like, “Okay I guess.” I told her, “I’ll help you, whatever you need. It’s gonna be great. We’re gonna love it.”
So she made spaghetti, I bought him a cake, and Del brought six of his friends. We had a meal and something just happened. It was the middle of the meal. It was insane. It was so much fun. We were laughing and talking and just having the greatest time. I did one of those things again I probably shouldn’t have done, but I was like, “Guys,” and they looked at me. And I said, “Wouldn’t this be amazing to do every week?” And they were like, “Yeah it would.”
It was a Feast
So that was in 2009, and every single Friday for the last eight-and-a-half years, we’ve invited all the homeless in the city of El Cajon to our house. We’ve had 71 of them before for dinner. We average between 40 and 60. It grew every year. My wife’s still making dinner. The first three years, it was just me and my wife doing it. And we just made spaghetti every night. That was just what you got.
Now my wife’s expanded the menu to four different things. We had a pulled pork a couple of days ago, 30 pounds of pulled pork. Now we got a bunch of people from the church to come over and help. We eat, and we sit out there, and we have a good time. Then we do a little Bible study. It’s real sweet now. We have a lot of people from the church. It’s a missional community. They’ve all embraced what we’re doing. It’s been amazing.
I’ll never forget about three years in, when my wife and I were still the only ones doing it, it happened that Christmas Eve came on a Friday night. And you know, Christmas Eve is a fun holiday to be with family. We had a lot of cool, young people in our church, and they invited us to a big party that everyone was having, play games, a lot of fun.
We were thinking, man what are we gonna do? Friday’s Christmas Eve. Should we cancel it? Should we not cancel it? We were trying to think, and finally, we decided. (We were still only doing spaghetti at the time.) My wife had never made a turkey before. It’s still pretty early on in marriage and stuff. We were like, why don’t you make your first turkey. We’ll throw a big meal. We’ll just have a really good time. We’ll play games, and we’ll invite everybody over for Christmas Eve. Let’s just keep Friday on.
So we did that. My wife made a turkey, and we had mashed potatoes. We had everything – egg nog and hot chocolate. And 18 homeless people came that night to our house. It was dark and windy and a little bit rainy. They all came in, and we ate, and we played games. I made up a bunch of fun games we could play. We were laughing and having a great time.
We sat down afterwards, and nobody wanted to go back outside. It was cold and rainy. You could hear the wind blowing against the windows. So we sat down in my living room, and we had a Christmas tree, and the lights were on. And we just talked about Christmas. We talked about how when the Son of God came, He decided to be born outdoors in a stable because the people He wanted to celebrate the first Christmas with were a bunch of dirty shepherds.
And you see, He didn’t want them thinking about the way they smelled when they were supposed to be worshiping Him. He didn’t want them feeling insecure about the way they were dressed or about the fact that they were ceremonially unclean. I don’t know if you ever thought about it, but you know the Son of God was born outside. He picked the place because He thought it was the most hospitable place to invite shepherds. It’s hospitality that had Him born in a manger.
Before He picked the manger, He picked the company: “I’m gonna have shepherds at My birth, so that kind of limits where I’m gonna be born if I’m gonna make them feel comfortable. If I’m gonna be hospitable, then maybe My birth should be in stable. Maybe I’ll make My first bed a manger.”
When you talk about that with 18 homeless people, and you get to tell them about this God that left Heaven to come and to be born outside to be hospitable to dirty shepherds, and they’re nodding, and they’re embracing it, I thought, “What was I thinking? This is Christmas.”
I never in my life felt Christmas like I felt it that night. Never. To this day, that is the best Christmas Eve I’ve ever had. Let me tell you, every other Christmas Eve I’ve ever had has been a meal with friends. This was a feast. That’s all there was to it. It was a feast. That’s what Jesus came to do. He came to break down those barriers. This is what it means to feast with the poor.