Blessed to be a banquet guest
(Read Luke 14:1-24)
For many people meal times are the best times of the day. Food is a big part of life.
According to Luke, food plays a major role in the life and teachings of Jesus. One-fifth of the sentences in Luke’s Gospel are connected in some way to eating a meal. In Luke, meals, food, and drink serve as occasions for many of the teachings of Jesus.
Robert J. Karris wrote a book called “Eating Your Way through Luke's Gospel.” It is not a collection of recipes based on Bible verses. It does not teach you how to cook with mustard seeds or how to prepare a fatted calf. Rather, Karris says that throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus “is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.”
In fact, Jesus was killed because of the way he ate — or rather what he said when he was dining and the company he usually kept when he ate.
To the annoyance of his critics, Jesus pointed out the vanity of seeking the best seat at a banquet and the gracelessness of excluding those who were neither popular nor influential.
We see this in the story of Jesus having a Sabbath dinner at the home of an unnamed but influential Pharisee. Jesus makes a reference to the resurrection and one of the guests says, “Blessed is the one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (14:15).
Jesus then tells the dinner guests a parable. Jesus says that someone decided to hold a great feast and invited many people. But when the day came, and the servant was sent to the invited guests to tell them the feast was ready, they all made excuses as to why they could not come. Excuses happen.
I came across a collection of excuse notes sent to schools from parents:
•Please excuse Lisa for being absent. She was sick and I had her shot.
•Dear School, Please excuse John being absent on Jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and also 33.
•Please excuse Roland from P.E. for a few days. Yesterday he fell out of a tree and misplaced his hip.
•Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday.
To our modern ears it seems like all the excuses in the parable are reasonable. So we don’t understand the reaction of the host.
However, the original listeners would have found the excuses lame, even humorous, until they figured out that, in Jesus’ eyes, this was how they were treating God’s invitation to them.
In Jesus’ time, when a person hosted a feast, the day was announced ahead of time, but not the hour.
When the day came and the banquet was ready, then servants would contact the guests and let them know. But the servants only went to people who had already made a commitment to come. To accept the invitation beforehand and then to refuse it when the day came was a grievous insult.
So the invitation went out to the outcasts of society. The outcasts in the parable represent people in life who never in their wildest imaginations thought that God really cared about them.
Verse 23 has historically been misunderstood: “Go out and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.” The phrase “compel people to come in” refers to a winsome and grace-filled invitation marked by intense kindness. This is the grace of God!
And one more thing! It is highly significant that Jesus thought of his kingdom as a feast. A feast represents, in the broadest sense, the most joyful experience a human being can know.
Sometimes people approach religion the way my grandmother used to describe medicine: “The worse it tastes, the better it is for you.”
But this does not describe what it means to be a Christ-follower. A Christ-follower is like one who is forever at a wedding banquet.