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. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)
The great eighteenth-century hymn writer and ex-slave trader John Newton marveled at the far-reaching impact of these words spoken by Jesus in Luke. “One would almost think this passage was not considered part of God’s word, nor has any part of Jesus’ teaching been more neglected by his own people. I do not think it is unlawful to entertain our friends” he says, “but if these words do not teach us that it is in some respects out duty to give preference to the poor, I am at a loss to understand them.” Looking at the current state of the American church, one can’t help but wonder if the “luncheon or dinner” Jesus was referring to could be what we call our church service today. We spend so much time catering our churches to our friends, brothers, sisters, relatives and neighbors, that we completely disregard those Jesus is calling to invite join us in our “banquet.”
It’s not that Jesus commands us, his Church, to disregard those who we consider being friends, peers or of high economic status, for Jesus himself often ate with his peers and people of wealth. However, his mission was still for the poor. Jesus commanded that his disciples should share their homes and build relationships not with people of their class or higher, people they could profit from or that would pay them back, but with people who were poor and without influence. I believe he is calling his church to do the same; to be for the poor, with the poor, and in pursuit of the poor.
Although I am unaware of any churches that actively turn the poor away, I am also unaware of many that actively seek out those in extreme poverty as being a part of their community. Most church facilities and services seem to be catered more to the middle-class who drive in from their different neighborhoods to come together with like-minded, similar looking people of their social class for once, maybe twice a week, fellowship and teaching. Although I’m sure many of these churches do really wonderful things to help the underserved and poor, it’s not as easy to make the case that they are designed “for the poor.” The Bible speaks of God as being “a refuge for the poor” (Isaiah 25:4; Psalm 14:6). Therefore the Church, as the body of Christ, is called to stand with the poor as a physical and spiritual place of refuge for them in this world. Is your church a banquet for your friends or a refuge for the poor?