Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Banquet: Swing Wide Open the Doors! (Luke 14)

What comes before a parable really sets the scene for what story Jesus will tell.  

Luke, Chapter 14, starts off with Jesus at the house of a Pharisee. Luke tells us that Jesus is "being carefully watched." The Pharisee clearly wanted to see Jesus up close and personal.  If you invited someone to dine with you in the ancient world, you didn't just share a meal with the person, but you were extending the hand of friendship.  I think the Pharisee may have mixed motives--he is curious about this person from Galilee who has swept the crowds off their feet.  He is also deeply concerned that Jesus is running around blaspheming God every chance He gets--by claiming He is performing miracles, and telling those crowds of His intimate relationship with God. 

Perhaps the invitation was given by one Pharisee and his guest list consisted of many other Pharisees, who who only came to "dine," and all the while they were watching Jesus like hawks.

First up:  a miracle.  A man who is swollen is present.  Jesus asks the guest if it's OK to heal on the Sabbath; they don't say a word.  Out in a bustling crowd, the Pharisees were able to make all kinds of comments about Jesus, perhaps out of earshot of Jesus and the person He was healing.  But here, in this intimate setting, any comments they would make would be heard, so they remain silent. They are not willing to engage in any arguments that they view are beneath them; while they are not desirous to have the crowd behind them, they don't want to lose what little support they have by being overly mean and callous.  

Jesus heals the man, answering His question with action.  Then the meal is about to be served, and all the guests are jockeying for position.  Do they want to be close to Jesus, to lean in and ask Him questions that they are eager to ask, but cannot do so in front of their peers?  Do they want to sit next to this "prominent Pharisee" (Luke's word) and score some holiness brownie points in his company?  

Whatever is happening, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach the people that humility is always the right move, because if you grab a seat that you are not to sit in, and you have to be asked to move by the host, you will be humiliated.  Then He says, "For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

That is Kingdom of God code for if you see the needs of others and step aside, God will see this and will invite you to sit with Him--for He is the ultimate Host.  

Then, He turns to the host of the meal, and admonishes him to not to invite just his social circle, for he will be asked in kind, and so on, back and forth.  That circle will be closed to anyone outside it. Instead, Jesus tells him to go out and invite those who cannot repay him: the blind, the lame, the weak and the poor.  His reward will be when the graves open, the trumpet will sound and those who loved others will rise, clothed in righteousness. 

"When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, 'Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.'"

Hold on.  It's as if this guest was giving a hardy "Amen," to score some points with the guests and Jesus.  This person is saying

Of course, the righteous will resurrect and I (just sayin') will be among those who will rise!  Allelujah!

Hmm.  I wonder if Jesus' parable might have been a bit different if this person hadn't so boldly and egotistically (just sayin') proclaimed that he or she was going to, no doubt, be there. Let's keep going. 

"Jesus replied: 'A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, "Come, for everything is now ready."

'But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, "I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me."

'Another said, "I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me." 

'Still another said, "I just got married, so I can’t come."

'The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, "Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame."

'"Sir," the servant said, "what you ordered has been done, but there is still room."

'Then the master told his servant, "Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet."

Wow. Here is Jesus, at a banquet, having already let the host know that a true banquet, in terms of the Kingdom of God, has all sorts people involved, not just friends and family of the host.  On other words, the banquet should be an expression of love for the whole human family--not just the "decent" folks.  I think Jesus may be trying to clarify just who the "righteous" will be at the end of the age resurrection.  

The man in the parable invites many guests. The guest list is drawn up consisting of those closest to the host's family--the inner circle in the community.  The guests equally saw themselves as part of the inner circle, who probably expected an invitation because of who they were. 

But they didn't value the invitation--they had a I'm-too-busy-with-other pressing-matters response. 

Let's listen in: 

Yes, I know.  I heard about the banquet.  It was only last month I went his house--beautiful but a bit gaudy.  Anyway, I just landed a deal on a bit of real estate I have been looking at for a long time. It finally hit the market and I snatched it up.  I am going to go and see it and of course, it's the same day as the banquet.  You've been to one banquet, you've been to them all.  Just tell him I can't make it, because that is the truth!  Do I want to make it?  Hmmm. Nah.  

Man, just check out these oxen.  Finest anywhere.  I am going to plow faster and more efficiently than my neighbors, and next harvest time, I will be sitting pretty.  Barns full of grain and money jingling in my pocket.  That's my future and I like it.  A banquet? Oh, no.  Not today of all days.  I want to make sure I got a good return on my investment.  Just tell him I can't make it--I make it some other time. (Not really!  I will be too rich to be going to a banquet!  I'll be the one throwing 'em and I will be the talk of the town!)   

Really?  A banquet today?  He has so much time to throw one, and now, of all days, he picks the day after my wedding day.  Really?  Didn't he know about my wedding?  Is he being so inconsiderate as to steal my thunder so he can have his banquet?  He can have one any day, but it's not every day I get  married!  Thanks but no thanks. 

Now, the host in the parable decides that if his banquet doesn't merit a joyful and gratitude-filled response of, "Yes, honored host, we will be there!" and the guests make excuses because they are too mired in their world, and not enough in his, then the host will expand the guest list to include, yes, you guessed it, the ones who will never make anyone's guest list!  "Those people"--the kind that no self-respecting Pharisee would ever even consider having over for a nosh.  

In other words, the humble who will sit in the lowliest of seats, who would never presume to come to a banquet (the man healed by Jesus didn't stay to dine) and who are out and about in a cruel, uncaring world. Yet, even after those people are ushered into the banquet hall, there is still room!

The host commands that the servant go beyond the city walls, into the highways and byways, and invite those who wouldn't even consider being asked to come to this host's banquet--who may not even heard of him until the invitation is given.   

In other words, you and I.  We were not the Chosen Ones; we were grafted onto the olive tree (Romans 11) and we are the beneficiaries of the Jewish faith--we didn't even know there was a banquet to go to until the Host, the Son of God, invited us.  

I am truly sorry for those, who, for whatever reason, have not responded to the invitation.  But there is always time.

For now. 

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