If You Give a Feast, Invite the Poor (Luke 14:7-14)

by Kosuke Koyama

>Kosuke Koyama is John D.Rockefeller, Jr., Professor of Ecumenics and World Christianity at Union Theology Seminary in New York City.

This article appeared in the Christian Century August 16-23, 1998, p. 747. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. [Luke 14:7-14]

Instead of inviting our friends, kinfolk or rich neighbors, we are to invite "the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind." Mission schools and hospitals should be run primarily for the poor and disadvantaged who cannot pay the fees. We are called to get past society’s balanced 50/50 arrangement. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. . . . But love your enemies, and do good, and lend expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great . . . . Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:32-36)

Our society, even the religious community, works on the basis of mutual invitation. Methodists invite Methodists. Lutherans invite Lutherans. Episcopalians invite Episcopalians. Buddhists invite Buddhists. Hindus invite Hindus. As long as we conduct ourselves in such a way, we have the convenience of speaking our own religious and cultural language. Intellectually and spiritually, we live comfortably. This, too, is a 50/50 arrangement. But Jesus is not enthusiastic about it. The real meaning of hospitality is found in inviting someone who cannot repay you, someone who is unfamiliar to you. Then the concept of invitation -- hospitality -- receives a Christ-related meaning. Christ is the Hospitality of God toward us. He invites all of us, from all languages and cultures, to the great feast, the Lord’s Supper, the feast which none of us can repay.

Christian mission hospitals that specialize in meeting the medical needs of the poor are doing what Jesus commanded. The free distribution of food, clothing, shelter and medicine in areas devastated by war, famine and earthquake is what Jesus was talking about. One of the main projects of Tenrikyo. religion, which sprang up in Japan in the 19th century, is a modern hospital, providing the best possible medical care for the poor who cannot pay the fees. These all point to Christ, who invites us as the Hospitality of God. "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor" (Ps. 112:9)

Christians often divide humanity into two sections: Christians and those who are not Christians (somewhat derogatorily called "non-Christians") Behind this division there may be the dramatic story of Elijah (I Kings 18:17-40) Today, however, there are millions of people who do not belong to either the Elijah group or the Baal group. It is important to take this third group into account. Who are the people who constitute it?

(1) Some 312 million Buddhists are neither the "Elijah" type nor the "Baal" type. Their great concern is the destructiveness of human greed. (2) People who advocate the use of nonviolence as a force in society to achieve social justice, represented by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., "scandalously" (I Cor. 1:23) attest to the invincible power that emanates from being "vulnerable." (3) Many human rights advocates, from the writers of the Magna Carta in 1512 to the composers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, do not join the company of either Elijah or the prophets of Baal. (4) The people who, embodying the best heritage of the European Enlightenment, gave to the United States its Constitution in 1787 and to postwar Japan its Constitution in 1946, were able to fashion a government that would check its own power. Such an achievement is not to be found in the influence of either Elijah or Baal. (5) There are many people today who are influenced by the classical thought of the Buddha and Confucius. Although both the Buddha and Confucius rejected the idea of a supernatural "God" (or "gods") as confusing and profitless, they were not fools (Ps. 14:1).

Should Christians invite people of the third group? Yes. Buddhists? Taoists? Marxists? Atheists? Yes, since they cannot, figuratively speaking, repay Christians in the language Christians know. Sincere dialogue with people whose convictions are different from ours would broaden the horizon of our spiritual commitment to Christ. Then Christ would receive a larger doxology from humanity.

The final expression of Jesus’ admonition to invite those who cannot repay would be his commandment to "love your enemy." The enemy gives us a strong self-identity. In the reign of God our strong identity must come from loving our enemies.

"When the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God!’ " (Mark 15:39) Lifted high on the cross, Christ invited a Roman centurion to his messianic feast. It was this Roman soldier who made the first ecumenical confession of the Christian faith. He, too, might have been of neither the Elijah nor the Baal type. He saw that "this man" loved his enemies. This simple word "saw" carries cosmic weight. When we invite those who cannot repay, we may be able to enter the place where we can see the "marvelous sight" (Exod. 3:3). The event of "loving enemies" is also the moment of seeing "the resurrection of the just."