If you were having a party, and you could only invite one person, who would it be? Five people? Fifty people? Obviously, the more people you could invite, the less selective you have to be.
The thing about Jesus’ “Parable of the Great Banquet” is that the man throwing the banquet isn’t all that selective. He’s hosting a great banquet, with much expense and great extravagance, and he invites “many guests.” It doesn’t sound limited, but rather, it’s open-ended.
But consider this: “they all began to make excuses.” Not one, not two, not three… ALL.
One man explains that he’s just bought some property, and he needs to go check it out.
One man says that he’s just purchased ten oxen, and he’s headed to try them out.
One man said, I just got married so I can’t come.
Now, each of them is very polite in their refusal, “please excuse me,” but they all reject the generous offer of the host. Not only would that be insanely uncomfortable for the inviter, but it’s also pretty rude in that society standard.
Every year, the champions for the NBA and NFL are invited to the White House to meet with the President. And every year, some athlete says he won’t go because he doesn’t like who is in office. Republican or Democrat, it happens every year without fail.
And every year, I shake my head.
There’s the whole part of “no I in team” when we set ourselves apart as better than the body, and make a fuss that takes away from what the team accomplished.
And then there’s the fact that this is the WHITE HOUSE and the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. I mean, seriously, I don’t care who they are and if I don’t like them, it’s still the opportunity of a lifetime.
And that’s what these invited give up.
The parable says that the banquet thrower became angry and that his servant is sent out to go into the city and bring in the “poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” It’s not into homes, but into the back alleys and rundown places, to find these people and bring them in.
And the servant reports back that there is still room.
So the master tells him to go anywhere and everywhere and “compel them to come in” to fill up the house. But those first invited folks? They have no place there.
On one hand, it’s a very openhearted, compassionate, warm-and-fuzzy parable, but we have seen over the last few weeks that parables aren’t really warm and fuzzy. They bite! And this one does, too, in its rejection of the first-invited who turned their backs on the master of the house.
I’d like to break this down on several levels.
First, there are the players. We can see God as the master of the house, preparing the world and all eternity for the appreciation and enjoyment of his people. We can see that God has made a covenant with the Jewish people or all believers and that they are invited into his glorious banquet. There is the servant who goes out, who might be Jesus or better yet, the disciples of Jesus (even us!) who have taken the word of God out into the world to share it with others. And like the “parable of the sower,” there are several layers of people who accept or deny the invitation.
Second, there are the excuses. Oh, man, there are excuses.
The first is about possessions: I have purchased some land.
The second is about work: I have purchased ten oxen to help me work harder.
The third is about relationships: I have gotten married.
Now, ask yourself, how many times have those kinds of excuses “prevented” you from… coming to church? attending Bible study? reaching out to someone else with the good news of Jesus? giving all of you had to the church financially or in terms of service? having a quiet time of prayer with just God? reading your Bible?
These are timeless excuses, aren’t they? And they defy the conventional expectations of societal norms. In fact, they are a way that we have come to explain our lives. We’re too [fill in the blank] to do that, so it’s okay that we don’t, because we have that excuse!
Family in town? Skip church. Work too hard last week? Skip church.
Too much work on the yard? Hit the couch rather than read the Bible
Forgot to pay your taxes? Don’t worry about giving missionally.
We excuse ourselves and we come to believe the excuses are more important than the thing we once knew was important. We devalue the “banquet” and focus on the effort of our excuses.
Third, the master of the banquet tells his servant to “compel them” to come in. He doesn’t give up just because the initial people have excuses. God isn’t about to say, “well, okay, I didn’t get their attention, so I’ll just let this one slide…” No, God keeps coming. God is proactively searching for the least and the lost, and modeling what he expects that his followers will do.
He expects that some who have been ostracized and left alone and who fall into the never invited camp will need to be convinced. And God sends out his servants to make that happen.
Fourth, the people who are brought in are the least, the last, and the lost. They are the uninvited. If we rewind our story to early in Luke 14, we see that Jesus was invited to a Pharisee’s, a religious leader and high on the totem pole political type, house. They invited him to test him, to see if he was or could be made into one of them. And they sat around in a big back rubbing session where they glad-handed each other and talked about how awesome they were. And they argued about who was the most important of them.
So this sermon was Jesus’ reframing of what a banquet looked like. He told the host of this particular party to invite in people who couldn’t return the party. You know, you invited me to your party so I’ll invite you to mine. Jesus said they should invite in the people who wouldn’t get to experience a party without their generous invitation.
We have social conventions for eating. We use utensils when eating. We wash our hands before dinner. We try to chew with our mouths closed. All of these are social conventions we understand and abide by and try to teach our children, but they are not necessarily the same as another country or time.
Jesus was telling his listeners, the uppity high-and-mighty, that God expects a different kind of hospitality to be offered because that was the kind of hospitality that God offered.
God who created a world and made it good for us to enjoy.
God who made a covenant with his own creation when he didn’t need anything from them.
God who surrendered his own son to death on the cross to save that same creation.
God gets hospitality. And he wants us to understand it, too. God wants you to understand that you don’t need to stay outcast, or misfit, or on the outside, anymore. God wants to invite you in because God is always working to make outsiders into insiders.
So what happens if we do get it? What happens if we recognize that the new plus-one isn’t about taking a date to the party but about going one level past our comfort to share the invitation?
What happens if it means inviting someone who has never been to church before? What happens if it means sharing our story with a family member who has been ‘burned’ by church in the past? What happens if it means having that conversation with someone random person, just because they look like maybe they need to hear some good news?
In John 14:2, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” What can we tell about heaven from that one verse? What can we tell about this banquet that is already underway and lasts forever?
-We are part of God’s family. We are first place finishers.
-There is plenty of room, and we don’t have to worry about overcrowding or “not enough.”
-There is familiarity and hospitality for all of Jesus followers, that being invited and participating means there’s a front row seat to the festivities.
-It is OURS, we are active, real participants who get to help create it in the here and now.
At one time, we were the least, the last, and the lost. The uninvited. If you aren’t 100% Jewish, you were on the outside looking in because that’s who the “invited,” the covenanted, were. But Jesus broke through that and made it an open invitation to all.
If you haven’t ever really committed to that, it’s time you did. It’s time you reflected on your life, and whether it was the moment when you needed to lay aside your excuses, and say, “yes,” to God’s invitation.
The banquet is open to us, we know about it because we’re sitting here reading or listening to this, but how we respond says a lot about us. We’re supposed to invite others in our words, our actions, in our actual invitation to talk about God, to Christian events, to church. So why is our church, why are so many churches, not bringing new people in every week? How can we say we get it and not actively, daily, weekly, do something about it?
Check out this video of Penn Jillette (if you have a moment).
Jillette asks, “How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them about it?” That’s coming from an atheist. Pretty hard core, right? But in truth, we can’t say we love or like someone too much if we’re not being upfront about the invitation, if we’re not calling them from the hustle and bustle to come into the banquet.
I wonder sometimes what it would look like if we were willing to invite people. If we were willing to say, “this is my church and here’s why it should be your church, too.” Would more people be here next week?
We know they’re invited. We know we’re invited.
The truth is that this invitation to the banquet is wide-open and all are welcome.
But you still need to RSVP.