Sixty-seven year old Margareta Winberg, a retired Swedish occupational therapist, received a surprising piece of mail recently. The return address read, The Government of Sweden, Lena Ek, Minister of the Environment. Curious, she opened the envelope and removed an engraved invitation to a banquet at government headquarters.
“I don’t know much about the environment,” she said later, “but I thought, ‘perhaps this is something I ought to go to.’”
Somewhat puzzled, she chose her wardrobe carefully that night: a pair of black trousers and a blouse decorated with “some things on it.” Then she headed for government quarters and presented her invitation. Minister Ek, she said later, made her welcome.
Her mysterious invitation, it seems had come courtesy of an administrative glitch. It had actually been intended for another Margareta Winberg — Sweden’s former agriculture minister. Who knew there were two people by that name in Stockholm?
Winberg told reporters that “many very interesting people,” surrounded her all evening. Indeed. Every other guest was a current or former top politician or diplomat, the elite among Sweden’s environmental policy shapers.
But because her invitation bore the right name, ordinary-person Margareta Winberg received every privilege that rightly belonged to her namesake, including a place in a group photo.
I caught a glimpse of that photo. A more cheerful gaggle of politicians I’ve rarely seen. The camera even caught some mid-guffaw. And sure enough, Mrs. Winberg, wearing the blouse with “things on it,” sat at the end of the first row, looking very much part of the bunch.
She told reporters something else about that evening. “They said ‘welcome’ so I stayed,” she said — this, despite the fact that the Minister realized the mistake — and that Mrs. Winberg had a great deal of ignorance about the very thing that united the rest of the guests.
In the midst of a society largely ignorant of the freedom-ringing gospel story, the Christian faith offers a feast of richness — God’s forgiveness of sins, his resources as our own, Christ’s companionship in difficulties, his strength in our weakness, blessings in brokenness, and a promise of life eternal, for starters.
How easy to become so entranced, so comfortable in our faith — and our faith communities — that we forget that God invites all comers to the feast — and that he mandates us to do the same, in the name of his Son.
So when someone has the boldness to accept, some of us find it a tad shocking when they take a seat next to us at the table. They don’t know much. They don’t have the right clothes. Their ignorance embarrasses us. They don’t contribute much. Their attitudes haven’t been adjusted. Not only that, someone insists on putting them in the front row in the group photo.
They have every right to that privilege. Why? Because their invitation was issued in his own name, and when we welcome others, we welcome Christ.
Is Jesus welcome at your table?