A particularly vivid unpacking of Christ’s lesson on dinner party etiquette in Luke 14:1-14, this time from pages 282-284 of Father Capon’s Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus:
That, I take it, is the point of Jesus’ words against reciprocation and repayment. Jesus is saying, ‘Listen, you are absolutely mired in your scorekeeping, bookkeeping lives. You are so busy trying to hold the world together by getting your accounts straight that you hardly have time to notice that it’s falling apart faster than ever. Why don’t you just let go? Thumb your nose at the ledger! Drop dead to the accounting! Because it’s not just one more thing that can’t save you; it’s the flypaper that catches everything else that can’t save you and leaves you stuck with it forever. Look, I’m on my way to Jerusalem to die so you can be saved, free for nothing. I’m going up there to give you a dramatic demonstration of shutting up once and for all on the subject of the divine bookkeeping. What’s the point, then, of your keeping records when I’m not?’
Do you see? He who was sent not to judge the world but to save the world (John 3:17) will not count our records against us. What the Son will offer the Father at the last day is the silence of his death on the subject of our sins and the power of his resurrection on the subject of our life. Therefore we are to stop – right now – living as if we could have the least influence on that happy outcome by fussing about who owes what to whom. That, if you will, is why Jesus tells his host to invite people who can’t invite him back: to get him to stop doing everything in his life on the basis of debit and credit and to open his eyes to the way God does business. Jesus says to him: ‘Forget about making a social buck by inviting the right people – and forget about making a spiritual buck by doing the right thing. Invite the wrong people! Do the wrong thing! You want to have a dinner party? Have a stupid dinner party! You want to have a life? Have a loser’s life! Spit in the eye of the accounting department! Invite anybody you don’t like and be anything you don’t like; but don’t for a minute mess with anything that isn’t last, lost, least, little and dead. Because that’s where the action is, not in your Guinness Book of Spiritual Records.’
At the end of his speech to the host, Jesus specifically ties this condemnation of bookkeeping to the resurrection. ‘You will be happy,’ he tells his host in verse 14, ‘precisely because these losers and deadbeats you invite won’t be able to repay you.’ He says, in other words, that happiness can never come in until the bookkeeping stops, until the hand that clutches at the dance goes dead and lets the dance happen freely. And he says that the place where that happy consequence will burst upon us is at the resurrection of the just. And the just, please note, are not stuffy, righteous types with yard-long lists of good works, but simply all the forgiven sinners of the world who live by faith — who trust Jesus and laugh out loud at the layoff of all the accountants.
And the unjust? Well, the unjust are all the forgiven sinners of the world who, stupidly, live by unfaith — who are going to insist on showing up at the resurrection with all their record books, as if it were an IRS audit. The unjust are the idiots who are going to try to talk Jesus into checking his bookkeeping against theirs. And do you know what Jesus is going to say to them — what, for example, he will say to his host if he comes to the resurrection with such a request? I think he will say, “Just forget it, Arthur. I suppose we have those books around here somewhere, and if you’re really determined to stand in front of my great white throne and make an ass of yourself, I guess they can be opened (Rev. 20:12). Frankly, though, nobody up here pays any attention to them. What will happen will be that while you’re busy reading and weeping over everything in those books, I will go and open my other book (Rev. 20:12, again), the book of life — the book that has in it the names of everybody I ever drew to myself by dying and rising. And when I open that book, I’m going to read out to the whole universe every last word that’s written there. And you know what that’s going to be? It’s going to be just Arthur. Nothing else. None of your bad deeds, because I erased them all. And none of your good deeds, because I didn’t count them, I just enjoyed them. So what I’ll read out, Arthur, will be just Arthur! real loud. And my Father will smile and say, ‘Hey, Arthur! You’re just the way I pictured you!’ And the universe will giggle and say, ‘That’s some Arthur you’ve got there!’ But me, I’ll just wink at you and say, ‘Arthur, c’mon up here and plunk yourself down by my great white throne and let’s you and me have a good long practice laugh before this party gets so loud we can’t even hear how much fun we’re having.