You Owe Me Dinner!
Devotion By Lindsey Gale, CBM
A wonderful Australian co-worker in CBM recently died. Jim Stallard had a range of severe impairments, several serious health problems, sharp insights and a gifted tongue. He wrote two autobiographical books – the first God’s Quad, and the second – alluding in the title to a disability-focussed passage in Luke 14 – (insert broad Australian accent) –
You Owe Me Dinner
You owe me dinner! It’s a great phrase to open up reflection on Luke 14, where Jesus focuses on a person with a disability and calls us to a similar focus in our hospitality. The passage contains both a story of Jesus and a story by Jesus.
The story of Jesus concerns a Sabbath meal in the home of a prominent Pharisee and his important guests, into which a disabled man appears. Jesus is one of the guests, and he gives strange, counter-cultural advice to his host – in v13 he instructs him; “Invite poor and disabled people!”
The story by Jesus concerns preparations for a lavish meal to come. Jesus tells of a great host who issues a strange, counter-cultural order – in vv 21 and 23 he tells unlikely and disabled neighbours; “You are invited – come!”
How do we read this story today – do we feel the concrete force of its message, or do we spiritualise it?
I have been collecting sermons on Luke 14. Invariably they spiritualise this passage.
In relation to the first story, disability is equated to any experience of misfortune, or ‘making a mess of one’s life’. As a result, the real, concrete experience of labelled disability recedes from view.
Jesus’ reference to the inability of poor and disabled people to repay favours is also spiritualised – the focus is less on that person’s reduced likelihood of owning a home and affording a big meal, and more on the intrinsically negative view that people with a disability by nature are ‘poor things’, ‘unfortunates’, not blessed and pitiable.
In relation to the second story by Jesus, preachers tend to equate the congregation with those mentioned in v23 who come from the highways and hedges beyond the town’s gates. Spiritualising again, we are understood as lower than the poor and disabled of Israel because we are Gentiles. This serves to underline the magnificence of undeserved grace, but also disconnects us from the experiences of that other set of guests in v21 – people with a disability and the poor.
But what if we don’t spiritualise? What if this story remains concrete in relation to disability?
In many cultures the stigma of disability, the realities of honour and shame, and the convention of reciprocity remain prominent and influential. Unless they have learned to spiritualise Scripture, this passage and its counter-cultural perspective should continue to speak loudly into those contexts today.
This means Christians in development have an enormous opportunity. Both personally and corporately, we can reveal something of the hospitality of God by the way we practice ongoing, concrete and personal hospitality to and with people with a disability and the poor.
Jim Stallard was known to say, “Disability is not sexy – people want to forget about it.” But when we make disability personal, when people with a disability are friends around our table, we won’t forget.
If we are forgetting disability in development, is it because we have not made disability personal in our own lives?
And if we have not made disability personal in our lives, will we act with sufficient resolve to ensure disability inclusion is mainstreamed in our development work?
Or will we be more like the church youth worker I spoke to recently, who when encouraged to adapt his program to ensure the inclusion of a camper with a disability, asked, “Can’t he just sit out?”
In what way have we sought to include people with disabilities within our work, church, lives? Lord, help us to make this personal in our lives and a reality in our organisations and churches.