In Luke 14:15-24, Jesus tells a parable of about a banquet. Maybe that’s too old-fashioned or strange to you. For me, in the month of March when both of my boys have birthdays, I can look at it this way.
We’re preparing for the birthday party, wrapping up months of straining and thinking and negotiating and bargaining about how we’ll spend the money we have allocated for gifts and the actual line-up of the party. What will happen? What will we eat? Do the boys need something specific to wear? What should the going away gift be? When will it happen? How do we work around nap time and meal time and out-of-town guest travel? How do we avoid …the weather? It’s all exciting but it’s also marvelously nerve-wracking, too!
But after all of the plans have been made, and the subject of the party is satisfied, the question remains: who should get invited? The people who would most appreciate the party and celebrating the subject of the party, in this case, one of my sons… are they people whom we, his parents, want to come! Who will get it? Who will he have fun with? Who will be the people most willingly to be present?
And then we invite them. We do our best. Invitations are worked on (okay, my wife works those out… I’m just the roadie!) and sent out. There’s probably a post office run to get stamps! And then we wait.
But what would happen if we sent out all of the invitations and then no one RSVPed? (Okay, truthfully, we have several friends who just can’t seem to RSVP. It’s like they don’t get it. I’ll not name names here because they are our friends…) But what if no one came? What if no one showed up to celebrate one of the two people my wife and I have anchored our lives around, who we value above all others?
That would be crushing, right?
In our parable of the banquet, the master sends his servant to invite all of the people he is sure will want to come, who he knows will ‘get it,’ and they all have excuses. The master and his servants have labored over preparations and the preparation is done. It’s been planned, bought, set up, and delivered – but the people aren’t coming? They are…
Too busy. Too much to do. Not enough time. Better offers. Whatever.
All of this has been laid out for the great party, and none of them want to come.
None of the answers preclude the ability to come to a party. The land to try out will still be there after the party. So will the oxen that need “tried out.” And of course, the new wife could actually “come with.” But they see the invitation and they reject it.
In this case, God has set all of creation before us because God loves us and wants us to enjoy it, so that we could, for lack of a better word, party together forever. And the first people he invites, they all reject him.
Now, in Jesus’ day, this held a pretty specific theological and historical implication: Jesus’ parable says that the Jews should’ve known better but they were rejecting the good news that Jesus was sharing. The religious leaders, the elite, the people who had studied the Scriptures, were all saying that Jesus’ invitation was… not worth RSVPing for.
So, in our parable, the master sends the servant to go everywhere and invite in everyone because the master wants his house to be full. He goes so far as to say those invited who found themselves too encumbered or disinterested in coming would find themselves uninvited.
Would find their post “unliked.” Would find their relationship “unfriended.”
But this is much more serious when we consider the great God of the universe is the one who has been offended, right? The patient and loving God who has finally had enough?
If we pull on the string further though, we might realize that the elite, those in the know, those who should get it are US. We know. We know we’ve been invited. We’ve heard the good news.
Jesus’ parable about the banquet is not directed at those on the outside who have no knowledge of the good news of the party, who don’t know about God’s love, who haven’t heard about what God is doing in the world. It’s directed at us – the people who should know better.
In Avicii’s song, “Wake Me Up,” he sings, “So wake me up when it’s all over/When I’m wiser and I’m older/All this time I was finding myself/And I didn’t know I was lost.” Too often, we can focus in on the correctional, disciplinary aspects of the Bible and think they’re about “others,” out there. We know we were lost and are now found – we figure they need God’s grace to let them see it. But Jesus’ parable focuses on something different.
Jesus’ parable says we’d better be careful to not assume that we’ve made it, and that God’s invitations are to be taken for granted.
If we’re honest, we’ll admit that we fail to RSVP sometimes. We fail to be obedient. We fail to be… the church. We fail to care for “the least of these,” to follow through on our membership covenant to participate in our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. We mail it in, but we forget to put a stamp on it.
I am not a big doom and gloom guy when it comes to the world or the church. But in Lent, we’re supposed to be introspective. We’re supposed to ask ourselves if we’re really following Jesus the way that we should.
And I find myself realizing that I’m in-between lost and found. I know Jesus died on the cross for me and rose again- I believe that with my whole heart. But I also know that I don’t always succeed in acting like it.
I get angry.
I worry about things I can’t control.
I fail to give of my time and attention and money generously.
And I realize that while Jesus has claimed me, I still have room to grow to claim Jesus – to make sure that people know that I know I’m loved and that they are loved too.
Do you know you’re invited? A month til Easter, do you know that Jesus came, fully God and fully man, to live on the earth WITH US, and to suffer and die on the cross for your sins? And that God loved you so much and God loved Jesus so much that he refused to let the story end that way?
If you’ve been at my church for more than a minute, you know I say that a lot. God sent Jesus to die and refused to let it end that way. Because of love.
I think it’s the most important set of words in the world: You’re invited. You’re loved. By God.
But an invitation can just be a card in an envelope on the kitchen table. If we don’t RSVP, we’re leaving that invitation unused, unpotentialized (I made that up!), un-maximized on.
We’ve got to accept the grace and live like we’re saved. We’ve got to respond to go to the party!
I pray today that you know that you’re invited, that you’ve checked “yes” to the invitation, and that you are getting ready for the party by the way you live, and love, and move.
The party starts with bread and juice at the communion table, and lasts eternally with the Great God of the Universe who loves us more than we’ll ever be able to put into words.
Just check “yes” to get started.