Give me your poor, maimed, lame, and blind...
Or so says verse 21 of Luke chapter 14. Following the rejection of several invited guests, the master in one of Jesus’ parables says the following: “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.” Several years ago, some folks at our church decided to live out the demand of that master and instituted the annual Luke 14 Banquet.
A couple of months ago, the volunteers sent out hundreds of invitations by mail and word of mouth. This past weekend, they set up dozens of tables, put out plates, napkins, silverware, glasses, red Rudolph noses, jingle bells, and then they waited. We all waited. And promptly at 5:00 PM, the honored guests began to arrive by the hundreds. Dozens of wheelchairs carried excited party-goers. Walkers and canes assisted hundreds of others. And together with patient guides, these honored guests filed into the brightly lit, gaily decorated lobby of our church. Greeted at the door, spirited off to the elevators, gently guided to the escalators, and ushered up to The Crown Room, the guests were treated as much like royalty as possible by the willing and excited volunteers. More greeters met them at the door of the Crown Room and lead them to their tables. They ate. They watched the puppet show. They listened to the speakers. They sang and danced to Christmas songs. Not only the overhead chandeliers, but also the enraptured eyes of the nearly 700 invited guests sparkled for several hours last night.
Who were “the honored guests”? They were the lame, the deaf, the mentally ill, the mentally disturbed, the cerebral palsied, those with Down Syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and bearers of all sorts of challenges that weren’t apparent to the naked eye. They came with caregivers, parents, friends, teachers, and camp counselors. But it doesn’t matter much what they had when they arrived; what matters so much more is what we all had when they left. Well, I can’t speak for any of the other several hundred volunteers at last night’s gala event, so I will speak for myself.
I entered the Crown Room and walked around greeting people I knew, praying with others that the evening would go well, that they would have patience and joy and words of encouragement for all that would be at their tables. Then I stood at one of the side doors and watched in amazement as those that are so often looked over, looked around, or ignored completely, greeted one another, hugged one another, and gladly received the hugs and attention of total strangers who welcomed them, fed them, and did all they could to honor the invited guests. At one point in the evening, I escorted a guest down three flights in the elevator and out the side door of the church so she could have a cigarette. She said it was her first time attending the banquet but that she hopes to return next year. I watched in amazement as the hobbled and bent, the mute and deaf, the scarred and twisted, danced, waved their arms, shook their bells, pasted on their Rudolph noses, and belted out choruses with gusto rarely seen among the “able-bodied.” When large bags of presents were brought to each table and then the gifts were presented to each person, the amazement was not in my eyes alone; it was also in the eyes of each glad-hearted, grateful, and surprised recipient.
About half way through the night, I felt an internal shift. I began to recognize myself in each of those wheelchairs, in each narrow, crossed pair of eyes, in each anxious child, and each disabled diner. I recognized the twisted, scarred, palsied, and mute areas of my own life that so desperately need care-giving. I recognized my own need to be lovingly, slowly walked outside by non-judgmental guides where I must handle my own bad habits. I too need to be fed, caressed, encouraged, and coddled on a regular basis. I too need the company of likewise afflicted souls to eat, sing, dance, and receive the gifts of friendship and laughter and silliness – with no expectation that the gift will be returned. I need people in my life who can look at my scars, see where I’m wounded and weak, and not look away. I need people in my life who can watch me drool and make a mess of my neat and well-groomed life, and are willing to wipe my chin without repulsion. I need people in my life who will come alongside me while I wipe the chins of my loved ones and quietly hug me, purposefully pray for and with me, then move on to help other hurting and needy people.
Even though I realize that we are all hobbling through life, limping, weak, and lonely, I tend to focus on figuring out who will stick with me, walk with me, and push my wheelchair when I am no longer able to do so on my own. I tend to be impatient and demanding just like some of the people at the dinner last night. I want everyone to meet my needs, to listen to my complaints, to respond immediately to my email, and take my calls. I want the world to revolve around me. But last night I was gently reminded that it’s not about me. It’s about all of us, each of us reaching out with grace, mercy, patience, and love to the rest of the travelers on this journey called life, regardless of our personal needs, regardless of our great bounty, regardless of who we are, and regardless of who we think we are.
While I cannot promise a banquet, I will say that holiday cookies, hot tea, and warm hugs are plentiful around here. Anyone care to join me, even if it's only for a virtual tea party? RSVP by Christmas Eve…