Beatitude for the Privileged

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Kelley Nikondeha -Beatitude for the Privileged3“Blessed are you when you give a feast and invite those who cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” —Luke 14:14

In Luke 14, we find Jesus dining at the house of a well-connected man, a ruler who kept company with the influential and affluent Pharisees. Jesus tells them a parable about seating arrangements at a dinner party, one about the host making evaluations on who gets to sit at the seat of honor. It seems James and John, sons of Thunder, weren’t the only ones to wrestle with the question of who is greater and who gets the seat of honor. The culture was one shaped by hierarchy and knowing your position vis-a-vis others. Humility, Jesus says, is the best strategy in such social situations.

But then Jesus turns to the host and offers him advice — “When you give a feast, don’t invite those who can repay you.”

Jesus tells the host that he’s better off inviting the poor with no strings attached. Better to give a feast, invite those who cannot ever repay you, and allow God to repay you at the resurrection of the just. Interesting advice to give to the well-situated man hosting him.

What might happen if the man took the advice of Jesus next time he hosted a dinner party? He would need to plan a meal without considering whom he owed or who owed him. Instead, he could be free to welcome people to his table for the sheer delight of their company. He might even be pushed to learn the names of the poor people at his gate, the beggars he passes daily, and the woman he always sees limping her way to the synagogue each Sabbath.

When he invites them over for a meal, he would hear their stories and begin to understand their hardships and hopes. Maybe in the days and weeks after the party he would find ways to help. He could introduce the limping woman to a doctor he knew, or visit the beggar and continue the conversation they began over dinner. He could create a few jobs for the poor outside his gate. He would know their names and some of their skills and can include them in the household economy. These men and women will no longer be invisible. They will be friends. When he is with them he won’t be angling for position or thinking of repayment, but he will be consumed with neighbor love.

If the host took the advice of Jesus, it would be a better kind of feast for him and his neighbors.

***

In 2015 trouble came to Burundi. The capital streets were filled with protesters and police, tear gas and tensions. For months the situation across the country was hot — over 300,000 people took refuge in Rwanda, Tanzania, and even as far as Uganda. Those who could not leave stayed behind, dodging bullets and roadblocks to survive. Markets closed and food was often hard to come by.

So my husband decided to throw a party.

One Saturday he gave all the money he could spare to his cook and asked him to get as much rice as he could, beef where he could find it, and make mounds of pilau. Then he invited all the people he knew who were hungry. They made their way to our compound, a safe distance from the hot zones, and ate until every grain of rice was gone.

The next Saturday Claude did the same thing. He got all the money he could spare, all the food they could find, all the pilau the cook could make to feed all the hungry people. As the troubles continued, food became harder to find or afford for these people. Pilau Saturdays became routine. He would feed up to 60 people each weekend in our modest compound, more if you counted all the children. Claude said he didn’t even know everyone by name, but the people kept coming and they’d eat until the rice was finished. This went on for months.

It occurred to me recently that Claude never expected any of his guests to pay him back. He just made what little he had available to the most people each week so they could survive. He was a good and generous neighbor. He knew how to give a feast and invite those who could never repay him. It is a beautiful thing when you watch someone who embodies this kind of Kingdom largess.

My husband knows how to throw epic garden parties. He loves to open the gates and welcome people into our home and have a good time. But the most important parties he has hosted were Pilau Saturdays. Those will be the ones my son remembers —  parties when every corner of the house was full with people eating, when he couldn’t see the grass in the garden because every inch was covered with women and their children, when platters of pilau kept coming to the table as if Jesus himself was multiplying it back in the kitchen.

Indeed, this is how you throw a party.

***

The Beatitudes are familiar to us — Blessed are the poor, theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. These are announcements for the ones who suffer now under the weight of a harsh empire . Someday, as Mother Mary dreamed, there will be a grand reversal and they will reap a reward. But what about those who are well off and well positioned now, the privileged among us? Is there a beatitude for us?

Blessed are you when you give a feast and invite those who cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

This is the beatitude for those of us who can pull together enough money to throw a feast. When we follow the party-planning advice of Jesus, we will join the others around God’s Table at the resurrection to come, beneficiaries of God’s reciprocity. Then we will be the guests who could never repay the generosity of our Host. The invitation for the privileged ones now is to recognize that we can never repay our Host, and to begin throwing feasts that include all our neighbors. We can feast together now, and in the Kingdom to come, as God has always intended.

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Kelley Nikondeha
I am a practical theologian shaped by education and experience, by rhetoric and theology, by the luminous beaches of the California coast and the vibrant rhythms of Burundian drummers. My own theology has been meted out in the context of a bi-cultural marriage and, as a result, a bi-continental family life. Among East African leaders, South African thinkers and Muslim friends I’ve come to learn more about the Good News and dangerous ways of Jesus. I am ecclesiastically promiscuous, a life-long lover of the stories of Scripture and the works of Walter Brueggemann. I must add that I’m a woman continually recalibrated by the liberation stories of Miriam and Moses, the intoxicating poetry of Isaiah and the provocative parables of Jesus. I’m insatiable when it comes to Sabbath and shalom, the rigors and release of jubilee and the radical inclusion of the New City – where there is room for every tongue, tribe and nation to gather at long last. I am a practical theologian hungry for the New City.
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha

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Kelley Nikondeha
  • Blessed are you, Kelley, when you write words that jolt us awake from our slumber of entitlement and send our hearts searching for paths to obedience and trust for a bigger table and a wider love.

  • Helene Burns

    Such empowering words to encourage us all to live by – a beautiful way of bringing Heaven to earth. I love that the Pilau dinner parties Claude hosted will be the ones your son remembers most. Thanks for this encouragement Kelley. xx

  • Heather Deeming

    “a better kind of feast for him and his neighbours.” Thank you so much for this – a wonderful reminder and inspiring illustration.

  • Saskia Wishart

    What a good man your husband is Kelley. I have always loved that scripture, but in my privileged position, I wonder sometimes if I can be immune to its practicality in my everyday life. But, I am challenged reading this. Challenged to identify the ones who cannot repay and invite them to the party. Xxx

  • Sometimes I have a hard time reading scripture and reimagining what that could look like for us today, so examples like this one get me really hyped up and excited. SUCH a beautiful demonstration of the Kingdom. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • I love that there are beatitudes for the rest of us. I’ll be chewing on this for a while, Kelley – thank you!