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Beatitude and Warning

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Beatitude and Warning Today’s gospel opens with a beatitude and ends with a warning: but which one is addressed to us? 

Readings are located here: Luke 14:15-24.

The first words are the shouts of celebration from a witness to Jesus’ healing ministry and his practice of table fellowship: words that recognise the Lord as the promised Messiah of Israel. The last words are those of Christ himself, words of warning to those custodians of Israel’s traditions, who — having been blessed with an invitation — have turned it down. These rejecters of Christ will find themselves rejected. They will be excluded and replaced by those they currently look down on. 

In the context of what we know about Jesus’ ongoing dispute with the scribes and the pharisees, it’s easy to sense who the first target might be. Those who are ‘first invited’ are surely the Jewish religious authorities, those who should be waiting for the Lord but in fact turn down his invitation for reasons that, from our perspective, can seem rather puerile. Those who end up at the banquet, then, are the rag, tag and bobtail gang of misfits and sinners that follow Jesus, those who accept his invitation, dare to receive his forgiveness by grace, and who end up being sent out to preach his Good News… in other words: you and me.   

It would be comforting, I suppose, to think that we were the recipients of the beatitude and 'the other’ was the recipient of the warning: but isn’t that exactly the sort of parochialism that Christ is preaching against, exactly the sort of domestication of divine grace that the pharisees are guilty of? From the parabolic analogies he gives, it’s easy for us to understand the Lord’s anger at the refusal of his invitation: “I need to go and see my new field” is probably the Ancient Near Eastern version of turning down a wedding invitation because “I’m washing my hair”. Frankly, it shows not only a foolish inversion of priorities, but an insulting lack of concern, a flagrant and unabashed breach of etiquette. But it isn’t so easy to see the times when we do exactly the same, when we allow our priorities to be inverted in favour of the ridiculously short-term, the moments of sin when we elect to worship the mini-idols of our own creation rather than accept the life-giving invitation of Christ to worship the one true God. 

Perhaps, then, both the beatitude and the warning are addressed to us in equal measure. Perhaps we should be neither smuggly self-satisfied by the thought of being part of the ‘in group’, nor filled with terror at the possibility of finding ourselves numbered amongst the ‘out group’. “Be sure, my house will be full,” says the Master. And even when all the lame, blind, the sick, the poor, the crippled are brought in, “still there is room!” The people on the open roads and the hedgerows are so stunned by the invitation — which, when measured against any social norms,  is utterly gauche and indulgent—that they have to be ‘compelled’ to reply. Dare we allow ourselves to be surprised — to be indulged — by the Lord’s invitation, which is more powerful even than the darkest of our sins? “Be sure, my house will be full”, says the Lord. For as he says in another place, “if it is not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”

Fr Oliver James Keenan O.P.

Br Oliver James Keenan O.P.

fr. Oliver is Master of Students of the English Province, teaches dogmatic theology at Blackfriars, Oxford, and has recently been appointed Director of the Aquinas Institute.


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