Luke 14: 16-24; see Matt 22:1-10 The Great Banquet

“Behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” Luke 7:34; Matt 11:19

Eating together establishes community, the offering of hospitality, and the building of trust and friendship. There are no defensive weapons at a meal table and animosities are set aside.

In the parable of the Great Supper the people had been invited well in advance and their silence implied they were coming to the feast. Only when everything was ready and the servant went to get them did the truth of the matter come out. The people had been twice called. In the Matthew version it was a wedding feast that these people were rejecting. Nurturing relationship and honouring one another took a back seat to mundane interests of the individuals. Community, hospitality, trust and friendship held no great significance to the first invited.

Deuteronomy 20:5-8 lists building a new house, planting a new vineyard and being engaged as reasons why a man may not enter into battle in case he dies. He is expected to establish ownership of his assets first before someone takes them out from under him. These people who have refused to come to the banquet are trying to justify their spurning of this great invitation based on this text.

They are saying “I don’t have to because the scriptures say you can’t make me.” Indeed, Judas Maccabaeus, leader of the Jews from 166-160 B.C. , also used this Deuteronomic text when he was seeking soldiers to defend the sanctuary against invaders (1 Maccabees 3:56).

At first blush we think that this situation is different – a banquet is not a war. However, this banquet is calling them to die to selfishness and sin. It is calling them into rest, peace and joy. It is calling them to trust that everything will be alright for them to take this life-affirming and rejoicing pause, for, life need not be one long tug-of-war.

We are being warned against worldly concerns which lead us to miss what is far more important. Recall Luke 14:26, 27: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” We are talking about eternal divine principles.

We cannot serve two masters. We will hate the one and love the other. God’s equations and plumb lines always ring true. God’s wisdom is far greater than all our contrived doings. Jesus also reminds us not to be worried for tomorrow for tomorrow will take care of itself. We are to feast in God’s peace.

Even though the initial telling of this parable brings into sharp relief how the Jewish people are symbolically represented as the first invited to the banquet, this principle holds true for all of us. At any given time we may play the part of the first invited and neglect the honour in which that entails. Even though many Christians are Gentiles and are represented here as the people collected from the highways and the byways to come to the banquet, we still play a part as the first invited if we have had the privilege of growing up in a Christian home, a church-going home.  Other ancient cultures are held to the same principles–you know who you are.

We become complacent in our relationship and forget to hold precious that which we have. We take our relationship with God for granted. We take goodness and peace for granted. The next thing we know, we have lost it all. Someone else has gone to the party, to the wedding feast of the Lamb of God. The door has been shut and we are banging on the door but we are not acknowledged.

The sovereignty of the Divine Presence (Holy Spirit)  comes to us each and every day. We must be ready for a change in direction every moment. We must be willing to follow God’s drum beat and not our own. We must be constantly prepared. We have been told of the great feast to celebrate our union with Christ. It would be folly to get distracted in temporal things which have no lasting value. We are called to constant preparedness for it is through us that the world sees the divine domain.

If we don’t have the Divine Domain through the Holy Spirit in us now we surely will be hard pressed to see it in its fullness when it comes. Remember the words of Jesus,

So then because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth. Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel you to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white raiment, that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness do not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore and repent. Rev. 3:16-19.

We see a new dynamic which urges us to invite the poor, maimed, lame, and blind to dinner rather than friends, relatives and rich neighbours capable of repaying the invitation. But if we fail to go deeper into the message we are reading only a message of humanitarianism. Much more is going on here.

The beatitudes help us to understand more fully: Matthew 5:3-16. Usually the text is read until verse 12 but the subsequent verses give a more complete thought and they speak to our parable. May our salt be salty for truth to be savory and our light illuminate the darkness of hurting souls. Those of us who are in relationship with the host already know the when and where of this community reinforcing feast. Of course God expects us to dine and bask in truth, often revealed in scriptures, each and every day.

The banqueting house of love, peace and joy is never too full for us for the servants to go out and find the lost souls who are not aware that the banqueting door is open to them. We are told to go out quickly and compel these people poor in spirit, and so on, to feast on God’s goodness and redeeming grace. As Frederick Borsch has pointed out, “Israel had long thought of the divine restoration as a banquet.” ( p. 53, Many Things in Parables; Extravagant Stories of New Community, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1988.)

So we find once again that the last have become first. It echos the event of Jesus visiting Zacchaeus’s house in Jericho, the stories of the full time workers not favoured over the part-time workers, and the elder son discovering a party in the making for his rebellious long-lost brother. Class, seniority and merit have no extra special standing in God’s banquet feast of goodness and grace.

Yet let us not neglect the fact that Jesus had a real live healing ministry. God’s care for us is not just other than the physical. God does indeed care for our every need. Jesus had said to John’s disciples, “Go your way, and tell John what things you have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.” We greet this news with joy and gladness. Amen and amen.