Jesus' Crowded Table + the Pharisee in Me
It’s no secret that Jesus was a friend of the outcast. His life was about radical commitment to people most in need--the poor, the widows and orphans, Samaritans and the sick, prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus loved crowded tables of misfits. He spent his days connecting with the difficult and the easily dismissable. He regularly risked prioritizing people over power, community over rules.
Rooted in his own Belovedness, Jesus held up mirrors to people who had been made to forget their goodness and said “I see you. God sees you. Do you see you?”
In today’s Gospel, like in myriad moments throughout all the Gospels, Jesus uses storytelling to call out religious hypocrisy and to highlight his solidarity with the most humble. He crashes the VIP table, heads to the margins, and invites each person to pull up a chair. Just like his ancestors before him, Jesus heard the cry of the anawim—the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the poor—and prioritized their care over the ritual purity and performative righteousness with which the Pharisees were obsessed.
Remember, too, that Jesus was not only a friend of the outcast. Jesus was the outcast: a poor, brown Galilean, whose family had been refugees; the son of a young woman who became pregnant before she was married…in the 20s in Palestine. This Jesus, friend of the outcast, and outcast himself, calls us deeper into presence with people most in need. He reminds us today, as he reminded his followers and his critics throughout his ministry, that making room at the table is not optional for God’s people. It’s essential.
Now, if I wanted to stay comfortable, I would end my reflection here. Jesus welcomed everyone to the table, especially the oppressed. Jesus called out religious leaders who use God to justify excluding people while propping themselves up. I do my best to follow suit and to encourage my students to do the same. Amen!
The trouble with stopping here is the opening sentence of today’s Gospel, which has been making me squirm for days:
“Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.”
Yikes. If I’m being honest, sometimes that’s me.
I believe passionately that the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, rooted in the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching, is morally right. Period. And it feels important for me to be unapologetic about that, particularly in my work with young people. But how convenient and unthoughtful it is for me to hear parables from Jesus directed at the Pharisees and presume that, at all times and in all spaces, there’s no challenge in there for me. “They” are the Pharisees: people who espouse bigoted views and who clearly just don’t get it…like I get it.
I raise this consideration not because I have answers, but because I believe it’s important to be honest with myself (and I suppose with whomever is reading this) about these questions. What does love look like when relating with people who hate other people? Whom have I decided is unwelcome at my table? Is that ever OK, or is it necessarily hypocritical? When and with whom am I self-righteous and even unwelcoming, perhaps in less obvious, more insidious ways?
I am reminded of James Baldwin, who wrote, "We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist." Jesus’ love was boundless, but it was not boundary-less. That is, it was all-merciful, all-forgiving, and it held people accountable to the values of God’s countercultural Reign. This dance is a tough one.
This week, I commit to reflecting on this rich paradox. If you feel so inclined, I invite you to join me.
Katie Davis-Crowder, MDiv, is a Chicago-based teacher, spiritual director, singer, writer, and presenter rooted in the Mercy and Ignatian traditions. She is passionate about spirituality, social justice, and the arts, and loves building home with her partner Kevin and pup Smartie. katiedaviscrowder.com