Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

April 10, 2022/Palm/Passion Sunday

Luke 22:14-34

For its time, the movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in what would be his last movie was avant garde, startling, daring.  It was 1967, after all.  Things were beginning to change, but slowly.  The U.S. Supreme Court declared state laws prohibiting interracial marriage to be unconstitutional, and Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the first African-American justice on the Court.  But across the country, race riots erupted in city after city as black citizens protested against segregation in housing, employment, and education.

It was against that backdrop that Tracy and Hepburn would film the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?  Hepburn’s niece Katharine Houghton played the couple’s daughter, and Sidney Poitier played Dr. John Prentice, the black doctor brought home to meet the parents after a whirlwind romance and engagement.  To try to smooth the way for their wedding, the couple invited both sets of parents to dinner.  The movie title thus was a play not only on Poitier’s presence as a black man at the dinner table, but also the presence of his parents.

Can you say awkward?  Can you say strained?  We’ve likely all sat through at least one dinner at which someone “showed out” after drinking a little too much, or two people began to air their latest grievance with one another over the filet mignon.  The strain may simply result from a lack of connection, personalities that clash rather than complement, guests who hog the conversation rather than mingling pleasantly.

But you’d have thought Jesus’ dinner party that night in Jerusalem would have been relaxed and easy.  After all, he and the twelve had wandered all around Galilee together.  For three years they had practically lived in each other’s pockets.  The occasion itself should have made for a convivial dinner – Passover, the annual remembrance of the escape from Egypt and God’s saving activity.

The meal was nearly done when the trouble started.  They had already eaten the lamb, the bean stew, olives, and bread.  Jesus had said puzzling words about the bread being his body and the wine being his blood.  And then he pretty much accused someone – one of the twelve reclining there at the table with him – of betraying him.

The conversation fell into chaos after that startling claim.  Turning to each other, the twelve began to question which one of them would do such a thing.  And that quickly led to a debate about which one of them was the greatest – the best disciple, the truest friend, the most loyal, loving, faithful of them all.

Three years of hearing Jesus preach about becoming like the least of these, about his own role as servant, and they still wanted to natter on about rankings.  “The greatest among you must become the youngest,” Jesus told them, “the leader like one who serves.”

And then he turned his attention to Simon Peter.  Satan will try to claim all of you, Jesus said, but “I have prayed for you …; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  Of course Peter protested his unwavering commitment to follow Jesus even to death.  Jesus drew him up short, calmly answering, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”

What a dinner party!  A betrayer – two betrayers!  Maybe twelve!  All sitting at the table together.  Judas and Peter, the others, all served by Jesus’ own hand.  “This is my body, which is given for you.”  “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”  “In this Last Supper, Jesus eats with his betrayer and the rest of the sinners, but offers all of them his body and blood, as well as his vow to eat and drink with them in the kingdom.”[1]

“Luke makes it plain that he imagines Judas sitting through the whole meal with all the others.  This dramatically raises the level of treachery involved, but also means that Jesus practices what he preaches about loving one’s enemies – he is treating Judas as a friend and a trusted associate.  [Yet] Luke does not picture Jesus identifying Judas directly and so preserves [the] sense that Jesus could have meant any or all of them.”[2]

Thirty pieces of silver.  A warm fire.  The safety of distance.  “Which one of us could it be who would do this?” the disciples wandered.  Which one indeed.  Which one could not?  Fear causes people to do crazy things, and fear no doubt was a catalyst for each of the twelve to turn away from Jesus in some fashion.  Maybe not directly, like Judas.  But indirectly?  “I do not know him!”  “His acquaintances stood at a distance, watching these things.”

But that dinner party.  That Last Supper.  All were invited.  All were welcomed.  Even knowing what the next hours would bring, even knowing each heart that beat around him, even knowing the various ways their betrayal would play out, Jesus issued an open invitation to the table.

There are two messages for us to take away from this scripture today.  First, how have we betrayed Jesus?  Don’t look around at everyone else, wandering who would do this – we all of us do this, in some fashion, regularly.  But take heart!  The second message is perhaps more important, more relevant to the Lord who was willing to tell his disciples, and us, the same thing over and over again, even when they still didn’t get it.  Everyone is welcome to the table.  Everyone.  Even when you’ve messed up.  Even when you’ve turned your back.  Even despite the worst you can do.

Who’s coming to dinner?  We are – every last one of us.

[1] Richard B. Vinson, Luke, 672

[2] Ibid., 678

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