Today’s reading comes from Luke 14:12-14 (NIV):
12 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. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Why is including the excluded the most beautiful Christian work?
While everyone has his or her favorite Biblical exhortation, my personal favorite is Jesus’s command that the hosts of lunches and dinners invite the excluded. In the ancient world, after all, the poor, lame, and blind had no social status, but were relegated to the tier of lepers.
I will list several reasons why this command resonates with me so much.
First, notice that banquets are not a necessity of life, but a social luxury. In other words, Jesus does not call his followers to provide the excluded solely with life’s essentials (meals, shelter, and medicine), but with life’s comparative luxuries as well.
After all, God does not merely provide for us. This is an indication of God’s unfathomable love for us, that he gives us comparative luxuries such as His presence and His listening ear, and not just life’s bare necessities. This kind of extravagant love, which we shall give to others, is a heartwarming trademark of God. It is His fingerprint.
Second, Jesus’s command here sums up the entire Christian faith. What does it mean to include, versus to exclude? The social dynamic is worth examining closely. To exclude, especially in a fallen world, isn’t necessarily bad on its own. It is the pride underlying much of social exclusion that makes it so awful.
Today, pride and exclusion go hand in hand. To exclude somebody too often means to relegate yourself to a higher position than them. Exclusion, like pride, is an opposite of love and of God, of putting someone before yourself.
The world excludes; God includes. The world divides itself into castes; God breaks social barriers down. The world asks about our achievements, productive value, and earnings potential. God asks about whether we are His. In the world, we are smart, wealthy, hot, or stupid, poor, and ugly. In God’s Kingdom, we are children of God.
Many worldly institutions (like Harvard, McKinsey, the Porcellian) are appealing for their exclusivity, while the Kingdom of God is appealing for its radical inclusivity of all the outcast, downtrodden, and broken. Our God is an infinitely humble God, always to be found, if nowhere else, among the dust, among the weak, sick, and forgotten.
As a very important side note, this is why the church needs to be radically inclusive. Too often, it has failed terribly at welcoming social lepers (like AIDS patients in the 1980s) into its fold, in the way Christ did. Christianity must not be used as another means of worldly exclusion. I believe such a thing is an abomination and gross blasphemy of God.
Third, social inclusion often combines both love and courage, a doubly worthy work. It is very hard to break ranks with peer pressure and associate with those of a “lower” social group. Think of high school, and then imagine what the social pressure must be like at a yacht club or on Wall Street.
Fourth, Jesus’ command for inclusivity is extremely applicable to our daily lives. As an example, I shall end with several questions (and this is the most important part of this essay):
Who is in your social group?
Who is at your parties?
Are there people there that you’ve taken the time to invest in?
Are you friends with people who have few friends?
Henry Li ’16 is former Managing Editor for the Ichthus, studies History and Literature & East Asian Studies, and lives in Leverett House.