I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want

The Jesus of Luke’s gospel is always eating: snacking on grain picked on the Sabbath, stopping for picnics, inviting himself to people’s houses for supper.

And today he is at it again.  But this time in a grander setting, he has been invited to a Sabbath meal by one of the leaders of his community to feast with the influential and the important.

Now I don’t think that I have ever been to a truly grand party but my parents were once invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace.  They were very excited and dressed, of course, in their very best; they were served the finest food and drink; and then -  my mother disgraced herself - she drank too much Champagne and sang the Spice Girls number “I’ll tell you what I want what I really, really want”.  Dad was mortified at her behaviour! 

I remembered this embarrassing family story when I read this morning’s gospel because although Jesus seems to be behaving badly -  instead of being gracious and grateful, he is hectoring the host and lecturing the guest son how to behave – he is actually trying to teach them, and us, about what it is that we really want. 

It all starts when he bumps into a sick man on the way – & he asks if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath.  But it is not the sick man that Jesus is really here to heal …

The man suffers from what was called dropsy, which means waterlogged – it was the old fashioned term for oedema – when the body swells because it is unable to get rid of excess fluid.  Paradoxically, although their bodies are full of water, a person with dropsy suffers from unquenchable thirst.  And so dropsy had become a symbol for insatiable hunger, for craving that could not be satisfied, always desiring more. 

The point being made is that it is not just the man with dropsy who is suffering from insatiable cravings, from unsatisfied desires, from endless want; so were the guests around the table and so are we. 
Their desire was for their reputation, their honour, their position; both in their community and, as religious people, in the eyes of God.  Which is why they are vying over who sits where.

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah, diagnoses the very same sickness in his people: they are hungry, thirsty, yearning: 
Which is not itself a problem – we are all hungry and thirsty, we all crave fulfilment. 
The problem is hungering after the wrong things, Jeremiah’s people are pursuing things that are worthless, that are no good for them. 

It is as if, he says, they are spending all of their time and energy digging out cracked cisterns that will hold no water when what they really need is a fountain of living water.
We too spend a great deal of our time and energy pursuing and striving after things that will not ultimately do us good, things that will not satisfy us, things that will not give us fulfilment. 
And yet we, and Lottie who is being baptised today, and Fiona & Will and Gareth & Hannah, whose children Alice and Teddy are also being baptised, know, or at least suspect, that there is something else that we really want: something that will satisfy our yearnings and cravings; something that will make us whole; something that is beyond what the world offers us and our children. 

What we want, what we really want – is God:  
although we are not always aware of it;
although we behave most of the time as though what we want is really something quite different, what we want is God – and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him. 

What both Jesus, and Jeremiah, are trying to remind us that what we really want – we can have.
We don’t have to strive for it, we don’t have to wear ourselves out working for it, it is a gift.  
In the parable of the dinner we are not the hosts - we are the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind – we are the ones who are invited even though they cannot repay the invitation.  
Because God, our host, doesn’t expect us to repay him, doesn’t demand that we have earned our right to a place at the table. 
That, of course, that is one for the reasons why we find it so hard to accept the gift we are offered – we really believe that we do have to strive, to work, to deserve.  We don’t value things that are free.

But God is a gift.

A gift poured out for us in the waters of baptism.  And whatever we are striving for or hungering after – in the end, this is what we really want, this is where we are at home, this is where we belong. 
And nothing that we do can make it otherwise:  however undeserving we are; however badly we behave;  we can scream and make a mess -  and Alice and Teddy may well do so (although I expect Lottie will behave with more decorum); we can even (should we chose) drink too much and sing a Spice Girls’ song.
We are still welcome.
There will always be a place for us at God’s table.  

RBT 1-9-2013