Friday, August 7, 2015

The Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Dave and his fiancĂ©e, who live in the U.S. were a little worried about whether all the guests would show up for the wedding ceremony on July 6, 2008.  Dave sent an invitation to his best friend Jim, inviting him to the wedding in Wales.  Jim thought Dave was talking about 2007 rather than 2008.  So Jim bought a plane ticket from Toronto for $1,000.00. Once he arrived in Wales, Jim called Dave to get the details about the location for the ceremony.  It was only then that he discovered he was ahead of schedule by a whole year.  "At least, he said, as the best man, it gave me a great story when I toasted the groom."

Isn’t it an honor to be invited to a social occasion?   Whether a birthday celebration, a picnic at the bay, an anniversary party, a graduation celebration, a wedding reception, or simply having a few friends over for dinner, it is one of the joys of life.

In our story Jesus was at a Pharisee's house for dinner on the Sabbath.  A guest comments about “eating bread in the Kingdom of God.”  He was referring to the Jewish apocalyptic future hope about the end of the world.  The Jews had various pictures about the end of history, like Armageddon, the cosmic battle between good and evil.  Another picture was of a Great Messianic banquet in heaven, which we read about in the book of Revelation 19, where John writes:  “And the angel said to me, blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb,” the lamb being Jesus the crucified and risen Lord. 

It is in this context, that Jesus tells a story about a man who invited people to a grand dinner.   In Jesus' day the social custom was to send out two invitations.  The first invitation said: “I am having a party and you’re invited, mark your calendars.”  All the invited guests replied that they planned to attend.  When the preparations were set, the host sent out a second invitation – “Come, my friends, everything is now ready.”

So what happens?  One by one the guests start making excuses.  Has that ever happened to you?  The time for your party has arrived, when invited guests start calling and bailing out.   Some excuses you have to agree are pretty creative.

Today when people RSVP and then either don’t show or call with an excuse at the last minute, we are a little hurt or disappointed.  In Jesus' day it was much different.  The culture was so different.  To decline after accepting an invitation, was a egregious insult, a serious social offense, and literally hostilities could break out, some families went to war over such things.

Were they good reasons?  Imagine you are the host.  You decide.  The first guest says: “I know I said I would come, but I just bought a piece of property and I have to go out and check it out.”  But why that day?  Business gets in the way.

The second guest says: “I know I said I would come, but I just bought five oxen and I need to try them out.” But why that very day.  Again, business gets in the way.

The third guest tells the servant: “Sorry, I thought I could come, but I can’t because I just got married.”   Surely this is a sound reason.    However,   Jewish engagements and weddings were planned over a year in advance.   The groom would have known if there was going to be a conflict with the dinner.   Marriage gets in the way.

When the servant returns and tells his master the news, the host is upset.  The host shifts to plan B.  He sends his servant out into the streets and alleys to invite the marginalized, the dispossessed: the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.  And when the servant says there is still room, the host sends him out into the country to invite still more folks to come. 

What is Jesus saying in this story?  God’s invitation to the great supper is inclusive, rather than exclusive.  Jesus in this parable shows the generosity and magnanimity of God.  God’s invitation is broad and open, rather than narrow and selective.  God invites persons regardless of their race, sex, social status, education or economic class.   God is not partial or elitist, prejudice or racist.

It’s further saying that the guest list in God's kingdom will surprise us.  We’re going to be surprised when we sit down at the Messianic banquet table.  “Look whose here, I can't believe it!”  That's why Christians must not be self righteous and judgmental, claiming to know who is going to heaven.  I have over the years heard Christian leaders make such claims and it is very disturbing.   That knowledge is God's alone.  God is the host, God is the one who does the inviting, not us.   And we never ultimately know who has accepted Christ's invitation in his or her heart.  On the other hand, people at the supper may be just as surprised to see you there and me.

The parable is also saying that God enjoys a celebration.  God throws a party whenever someone enters the Kingdom or reign of God, whenever someone enters into a right relationship with God.  We learn this from the gospel of Luke.  A shepherd finds a lost sheep and throws a party, a woman finds a lost coin and throws a party, a prodigal son returns home and his father throws a party.   “For my son was lost, but now is found.”  Praise God.

Scripture says:  “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”   God gives us the freedom to respond, to accept His invitation to the Great Dinner in the Kingdom of God.

The parable concludes with words that would have shocked the people at the party.  Jesus says: “I tell you not one of those who were invited will taste my banquet.”   Jesus dares to claim that He is the host of the future Messianic banquet.

The good news is that God has sent out an invitation to the banquet with your name on it.   No one can earn the right to attend or earn a place at the banquet table.   It's by invitation only, it's by God's grace and mercy alone.  All we have to do is accept the invitation.  The only thing that keeps us from the party are excuses about why we can't attend.

Come, for everything is now ready.”   Christ has reserved a seat for you.  May at this Lord's table you experience a foretaste of the Great Messianic banquet to come.   Amen!