guess who's coming to dinner?

Our church has a social event called, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” (perhaps deriving it's name from the movie of the same name - I'm not sure) How it works is you sign up either as a host or guest and you are matched anonymously with others for dinner. Both the hosts and guests don’t know who they will be sharing dinner together with. The event creates space for people to connect who might not otherwise do so, exploring creatively how we can foster community in our church. It’s great.

This past Sunday I preached on the story of David and Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 9) and titled my sermon, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s one of those hidden gems in the Old Testament. King David, reigning in a time of peace and prosperity, acts on a promise he made to his beloved friend Jonathan to “never cut off his kindness for Jonathan’s family” (1 Sam. 20). In a radical display of counter-cultural compassion, David brings Jonathan’s son - a cripple and an outcast - to live in the palace court. It’s story of contrasts: Mighty King David at the height of his power and success; lowly Mephibosheth in a position of extreme weakness both as a cripple and a political outcast. The story raises some pointed questions for the reader:

-Who are the weak among us?
-Who are the powerful among us?
-Where do I fit?
-What do I do in these positions?

Reflecting on these questions, I can't help but think of the social event we’ve done as a church. Picture the palace court and David asking, “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” I imagine people responding inquisitively, excited with this entertaining new game in the king’s court: “A prince? A queen? A priest? A warrior?”


The people of the palace court would be waiting in anticipation. But then they hear a noisy shuffling around the corner of the great hall. Who could it be? I imagine their reaction upon seeing Mephibosheth:

"A cripple!?! A political outcast!?! What!?!"

It’s a profound picture of compassion, loyalty, and love. But looking at this story alone as a model for how we treat others is incomplete. Unfortunately, David’s kindness to Mephibosheth is more of a blip on the radar as opposed to a trend-setting model for Israelite kingship. In fact, later on, David gives up for execution seven descendants of Saul in a deal with the Gibeonites, holding back only Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 21). His counter-cultural compassion, it seems, had limits.

There is, thank God, a better example of generous inclusivity in the Bible. Surprise, surprise, it’s in Jesus that we have this complete picture of love for outsiders – love for all. We see this in Luke 14, illustrated by this moving video:

All this to say, next time you find yourself playing God, assuming you know the answer to the question, “Guess who’s coming to dinner?,” remember David’s compassion to Mephibosheth; remember Jesus’ story of inclusion.

As the following song professes, the need for God’s compassion runs deep in the world:


Len Hjalmarson said...

There is a great Israeli film called "Ushpizin," literally, "the guest." it explores the idea of "the stranger" in a modern Hasidic context. funny, touching at points and a story well told.

David Warkentin said...

Thanks Len - looks like an interesting film.

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