The Invitation To An Abundant Feast
Rev. Louis Timberlake
August 2, 2015
When I was a kid, my parents would say the same thing every time I went to a friend’s house. They’d remind me to have good manners, to clean up after myself, to say please and thank you, yes ma’am and no ma’am, yes sir and no sir, to be polite at the table and eat whatever was served—even if I didn’t like it, I was supposed to eat some of it. They’d tell me every time, “If you behave well, then you’ll be invited back.”
You see, they knew what I didn’t. They knew that, when you’re a kid, it’s not so much about whether the other kid wants to invite you over, it’s about whether the parents want to invite you over. If you’re polite and well behaved, the parents want you to come over all the time. If you’re a pain in the rear end, they’ll find a way to get their kid to invite someone else.
Being a good guest transfers to adulthood as well, right? We love to host people who don’t create a lot of unnecessary stress. And we want to be those types of people in the lives of others.
Well, as we read the passage this morning and the surrounding chapter, all I can think is that Jesus is basically the worst dinner guest ever. You see, this parable that Jesus tells is in the context of a dinner party that he is attending at the house of a Pharisee leader.
Now, some of you might be thinking, “What is Jesus doing eating with Pharisees? I thought that they were like his main enemies?” Well, that's only partially true. The Pharisees get a bad rap a little too often. Basically, the Pharisees were a group within Judaism of scholars and teachers, often from more common classes. They are different from and often at odds with the Sadducees, which was a group composed of Temple priests and other elite types. The Pharisees were actually, in many ways, the forerunners to Rabbinic Judaism. Jesus, as a traveling teacher, actually had a lot of similarities to the Pharisees.
He might even have had a good relationship with some of them. In the end of the previous chapter, some Pharisees actually warn him that he needs to leave town, because Herod is looking for him and wants him killed. That’s not something they’d likely say to a bitter enemy. In fact, this is actually the third time in Luke that Jesus shares a meal with Pharisees. All that said, some of the criticism of the Pharisees we see in the New Testament is valid and Jesus definitely had serious disagreements with a number of them.
So, why is Jesus the worst dinner guest ever? Well, if you go back to the beginning of the chapter, he is walking with a group of Pharisees and lawyers to dinner and we learn that it’s the Sabbath. Now, one important part of being a good dinner guest is avoiding serious arguments with other guests. If you’re at a dinner with someone you know has strong political or religious beliefs that are very different from yours, it might be better to discuss sports. But Jesus heals a man they come across while walking to dinner. It’s the Sabbath and he knows that the Pharisees have a problem with healing on the Sabbath. They’ve already had this argument multiple times. But he doesn’t do it discreetly; he does it in full view of everyone else and then turns around and questions them about it. He’s trying to provoke them.
Then, they get to the dinner and people start to take their seats. Now, seats reflected social status. Jesus noticed that many people were trying to sit in the best seats, communicating to everyone else, I am higher on the social ladder than you. Now, if someone makes a faux pas at a social event, you’re supposed to ignore it, right? Let it go. But, Jesus doesn’t. He tells a parable with a message that is basically, “None of you is half as important as you think you are.” He insults all of the guests in one fell swoop.
Then, in case he hadn’t done enough damage, he turns to the host and says, “When you host a party, you shouldn’t invite your friends or well-off neighbors—those people who will, in turn, benefit you. No, you should invite the poor, the marginalized, so that your reward will be in heaven, not on earth.” This all while he’s sitting at a banquet full of the host’s friends and well-off neighbors.
So, before they even start eating, before we get to the passage we read today, he has insulted everyone in the room. And he’s not done. The passage we read earlier starts with another guest trying to respond positively to Jesus’ comment about who one should invite to dinner. The guest remarks how wonderful it would be to eat in the kingdom of God. Now, keep in mind, these are a bunch of Pharisees, religious teachers and leaders. This is like a bunch of pastors sitting around a table and one remarks how wonderful it will be to dine in the kingdom of God.
He is speaking as one who fully expects to have a seat at that table.
He is speaking as an insider, as someone who has a golden ticket.
Sitting in a room of people who have golden tickets.
So, Jesus responds with a story. He tells them about this magnificent banquet. When everything is ready, the host sends his servant to tell those who had been invited that it was time to come. But, everyone has an excuse. One man has just completed a big business deal, he’s made a significant investment in a piece of real estate and he needs to give his time to that investment. Another man has just bought some oxen. They didn’t have sports cars or ski boats back then, they had oxen. A good team of oxen was a big deal. This man had just bought something many people couldn’t afford, and he wanted to go try it out. The last person had just gotten married. There were too many family commitments to have time for a banquet. I mean, all of these sound reasonable to us. I can’t, I have work. I can’t, I’m going to spend the day on the lake in my new boat. I can’t, I have family commitments.
The host isn’t happy; he sends the servant back out to invite the poor, the marginalized. The servant comes back and says, “There is still space at the table.” So, the host sends him out again, to the roads and lanes. Now, this probably means outside of town. The people the servant would find there would be the outcasts, the lowest on the social ladder. And they come, and the table is filled.
Stories like this, parables, invite us to find ourselves in the story. The Pharisees knew this; they used parables themselves to teach others. The problem with this parable is, they can’t easily locate themselves in the story. Surely, they aren’t the marginalized or the outcasts. There’s the host, which is a little presumptuous even for some of them. That just leaves the initial invited guests and the servant. Those who ultimately turned down the invitation and don't end up at the table or the person having to walk all over creation, to some really rough places, just to try and fill the table. Neither of these are comfortable roles for the Pharisees.
But being cast in these roles forces them to ask two questions:
How am I responding to the invitation?
Who am I being called to invite?
This is how Jesus responds to this guest’s remark about breaking bread in the kingdom of God. You’ve received the invitation, but how are you actually responding? Are there other things that have become more important?
Or, for those who see themselves as the servant, who have worked tirelessly to prepare the banquet, to serve the host: Where are you being called to go? To the friends and neighbors close by? To the poor and marginalized a little further away? To the unclean, the diseased, the addicts on the outskirts of town? The invitation has been extended to all, but the servants must go and make that invitation known.
This parable is the story of Jesus in a nutshell. In Jesus, God is revealed and we are invited into something spectacular. We are invited to come and feast at the table of the kingdom of God, where we find forgiveness. Where we find healing. Where we find abundance. Where we find joy.
We are invited, that’s not a question. The question becomes how we are responding to that invitation. Are we listening to the call of God’s servants, turning from what we’re doing and following the path that leads to that great banquet? Or, are we letting ourselves be distracted by other things?
And it’s not just us that are invited. All are invited. Too often, we waste time trying to decide who is in and who is out, who is worthy of an invitation. That is not our job. We are not that wise. God doesn’t call us to draw lines, God calls us to go and invite everyone—friends, enemies, rich, poor, healthy, sick, clean, unclean, sober, addicts. God calls us to go and invite everyone, so that the table might be filled.
How are we responding, participating in the story of Jesus, the story of what God has done and is doing? How are we responding to that command, “Come, for everything is ready now.”
And, how are we inviting others to know and participate in that story? How are we living out that command, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.”
Jesus invites us to come, and Jesus calls us to go. Amen.