The Great Banquet
I’m sure everyone here knows the feeling of being invited to something, not really wanting to go and needing to find some kind of polite, noncommittal response in the moment that doesn’t require us to say yes or no to the person’s face. This as you’d imagine, can be an especially uncomfortable social situation for those of us who consider themselves introverts, who want to be people pleasers and yet may not enjoy large gatherings.
Earlier this week, I read something online about what introverts are really telling you when they give the following non-committal response:
For example, when an introvert says, “I’ll let you know,” what they’re most likely telling you is “I’m not coming”
Or when they say “I’m not sure yet” what they’re probably saying is “I’m very sure that I’m not coming”
Or when they say “I’ll try and come” in reality, what they’re thinking to themselves is “I’m not going to try anything”
Or finally when they say “I’ll think about it” they might as well be saying, “I won’t think about anything, I’m not coming”
Introverts, so much for our covert coverups and excuses. The truth is out.
All kidding aside, this morning, we’re going to reflect on an invitation of much greater significance, one that far surpasses any birthday party or football game or any of the Labor Day Weekend festivities we might find ourselves invited to on Montana’s Biggest Weekend. Instead, we’re invited to the grandest invitation of all – it’s the invitation to feast with Jesus in the very Kingdom of God.
In many ways, today’s passage is a continuation from last week, as we continue the conversation that Jesus himself was having at a dinner party, where he was the guest at a Pharisee’s house. And last week we looked at the first two of three party themed parables. The first where Jesus gives party advice to guests, telling them where they should sit, then second where he gives party advice to his host, telling them who he should invite. And then in today’s parable, with yet again another party theme, we see Jesus zoom out quite a bit, comparing the Kingdom of God itself to a man who was preparing a great banquet, an extravagant party. In the end, everyone gets an invite. And the question for each of the characters in the story and ultimately for you and me is, “What do we do with that invite?” And as we consider this invitation, we’ll look at from an eternal standpoint, but yet also day to day. Eternal, as in, do we confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior and put our faith in him, and yet also day to day, do we choose him over everything else the world offers us each and every day.
To do this, we’ll briefly look at the two main characters, or main character types, in this story, and consider how you might relate to both of these character types in ways big or small.
So let’s dive in.
Let’s look at first group, and those, are the originally invited guests.
Jesus begins the parable in this way: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses.
At first glance here, this may seem like a last minute, an out the blue invite out of nowhere, and so we may have sympathy for guests who made excuses because like any normal person, they may already had other plans. But yet that almost certainly wouldn’t have been the case. What you have here is a double invitation, where just like we get a save the date to a wedding months before, they would have as well. They all RSVP’d yes, but are now for a variety of reasons are backing out at the last minute.
And their excuses, particularly the first two, are rather pathetic and lame. One person says that they just bought a field, the other says they’ve just bought some livestock, both say they need to check them out, apparently right then. Surely, they could have planned better and put that off until later.
The first two excuses are rather weak and lame, and yet the third is downright insulting and unbecoming. When the third says, “I just got married, so I can’t come,” that is not a husband throwing his nagging wife under the bus for demanding that he be home promptly at 6pm. Instead, that is someone in not so subtle way saying, “I’m sorry, we just got married and we have honeymoon activities to enjoy.” And if that sounds rather crude and inappropriate to say out loud, that’s because it is.
Now, as to what relevance all of this has to you or me or how you and I might identify with these originally invited guests? Well, I think on one hand it simply highlights the fact how possessions, pleasures and people can keep us from say yes to the invitation to be with Jesus. Our possessions can keep us from saying yes to Jesus – so much to do, so much to get done around the house, our possessions sometimes have a way of possessing us. The pleasures of this world can keep us from saying yes to Jesus – our desire for travel and adventure, sports and entertainment, wealth and status, and the like.
And yes, even people, yes even a spouse, can keep us from saying yes to Jesus. Though sometimes hard to hear, I’m reminded that for Callie or Noah or Caleb, I am not supposed to be the most important relationship in life, rather Jesus is. I’m not designed to be their #1, Jesus is.
And so, friends, are you making space, available to say yes to Jesus’s invitation, both long term and day to day? Is there margin in your life for bible study and prayer, or is that time getting squeezed out by lesser things? Are you able to say yes to interruption, able to say yes to spontaneous and meaningful ways to love your neighbor? Or are you settling for something that’s meant to be secondary?
What strikes me about these three excuses is that these people are not pulled away by bad things, but rather good things. Land, livestock, marriage. Those aren’t bad things, those are good things. Truth is, oddly enough, it’s often the good things of life, rather than the bad things that compete for our attention that keep us distant from God.
Pastor John Piper says it this way: “The greatest enemy of hunger of God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts.” Yes, yes and yes. Friends, what’s a good thing that is keeping us from saying yes to a far better thing, to Jesus’s invitation to be in and participate within the kingdom of God?
Those are the first character types in our story. Here’s the second. These are the unexpected guests.
When the host heard back from his servant that none of his invited guests could come, he did not cancel the party, nor did he postpone it. In fact, he couldn’t. Here he had all this food prepared for guests who had committed to come, then backed out, and in a non-refrigerator world, it needed to be enjoyed that very night or it would spoil. So he said to his servant, “‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ In other words, go out to the trailer parks, go over to the food bank, make your way into the back rooms of the casinos and all those who are still find themselves at the Metlen at last call, and invite them to my banquet.
Invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame to come to my banquet. You might notice that it’s the same list of people that we saw last week that Jesus calls us as hosts to invite to our homes, for our own parties. Here once again what can be described as the great reversal. Where the people that we expect to be with Jesus in the Kingdom of God – the rich, the powerful, the popular are out, while the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame are in.
Now, why that is, exactly, there are many reasons, and yet this story I think alludes to one. And that is, for this group of people, the possessions, pleasures and people of this world aren’t competing for their attention in the same way they might for some of us. They can say yes, to Jesus, yes to God’s invitation. They don’t own a lot, they can’t afford a lot, they can’t do a lot, and yet as challenging as that itself might be, it actually makes them more receptive to saying yes to Jesus.
Even more, consider this. Later on, it says in the parable that the servant was tasked with “going out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in.” Now, consider how strange that actually kind of sounds. Why in the world would you have to compel a poor person to say yes to banquet full of free food? Wouldn’t that be an easy sell and an easy decision for one of these outsiders to make?
Well, consider it from their vantage point. Consider you are one of these people on the margins of society and here you get this spontaneous invitation to a great banquet. In a skeptical way, I could imagine them wondering, “Is this a trap? Are there strings attached here?” But even more so, I could imagine them saying, “Are you sure you’ve got the right person, here? I’m just some nobody. Clearly you’ve made some kind of mistake.” Like, this is an unexpected invite of the greatest kind and these people know it.
And yet in the upside down nature of the kingdom of God, it puts them in perfect position to accept this invitation. They know how unworthy and undeserving they are, unlike the originally invited guests who just blow off the invitation like it’s nothing. All in all, the point of this parable is not simply to suggest that simply the economically poor, and the physically crippled and blind and lame will enter the Kingdom of God, but even more so to suggest the spiritually poor, crippled, blind and lame will enter it.
So what do we mean by the spiritual poor and the like? Pastor Tim Chester describes it like this:
To be spiritually poor is to realize that we have nothing to offer, nothing to contribute when it comes to securing our salvation and standing with God. To be spiritually crippled is to recognize that sin, left unchecked, has the ability to render us powerless. To be spiritually blind is to acknowledge that we unable to see the truth about Jesus apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. To be spiritually lame is to grasp that we are unable ourselves to come to God on our own accord, but rather God making his move towards us.
These are the people that are best positioned and most receptive to saying yes to Jesus. So friends, which character type do you most identify with? Do you identify more with the original guests, who are distracted and settle for the things of this world – the possessions, pleasures and people – rather than saying yes to Jesus? Or are you one of the unexpected guests, bowled over in gratitude that Jesus would invite you to come and feast with him?
And I’ll finish with this … when the servant tells his host that there’s still more room in the banquet, the host replies by saying to go out compelling more people to come in … so that my house will be full. You all, this is the heart of our God. Though small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, our Lord wants to see his house, his dwelling place, his heavenly home, not empty, not empty, but full. Though entering it will require us to sacrifice more than we could have ever possibly imagined, it also comes with more joy than we could have ever dreamed up.
Incredible sacrifice, unbelievable joy, and to say no is to miss out on the greatest invitation we’ll ever receive. We are invited to enter into the joy of our savior and everyone is invited, anyone, yes, anyone can get in on this.
All of which brings us ever so briefly to our third and final character type, the faithful servant. As we’ve mentioned before, the kingdom of God comes with both an invitation and mission. An invitation for ourselves and an invitation to invite others to join in. We both serve as guests and as servant of our heavenly host. In the end, entering the kingdom of God, partaking in this great banquet, what will one day be the wedding supper of the Lamb, is an invitation only event, and all are invited. However, not all will say yes. Nevertheless, you and I are called to invite people to say yes to Jesus himself. After all, there’s plenty of room and the host wants to see his house full.