"Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his booth. ‘Follow me,' he said. Levi got up and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house." - Luke 5:27-29 (NIV)
I find only three instances in scripture when Jesus hosts a meal—the improvised feeding of the four (or five) thousand, the members-only Last Supper, and the post-resurrection breakfast for a handful of frustrated fishermen.
Other than that, Jesus doesn't host anyone at his table. He doesn't have a table. He's always at someone else's. Tax collectors like Levi and Zacchaeus throw him banquets. Pharisees, too. Peter's wife feeds him. And Martha in Bethany. Jesus doesn't invite; he gets invited.
So when we say we welcome everyone to the church's table because Jesus welcomed everyone to his, we're on shaky evidentiary ground. Which doesn't argue for exclusion. It only suggests that Jesus may present a challenge to us not so much because he was a gracious host, but because he was a willing guest.
If our churches aren't very inclusive, it might be because too many of us have mistaken ourselves for the Giver of the Feast. We're not hosts extending invitations. We're guests among guests. Yet we behave as if having arrived earlier than others has given us proprietary rights over the hall. Which means we haven't yet pondered deeply enough the Mercy by which we all got in here in the first place.
Our churches will more closely resemble God's all-embracing realm when we relinquish our sense of entitlement to them, cease welcoming others as if there's such a thing as "others," stop playing munificent hosts, and learn to be good guests.
Thanks for inviting me, O God. Teach me my place— guest among guests—as you fill the hall.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.