No matter what culture you explore, everyone holds to table manners. They may differ greatly, from one hand on the lap in the West to both hands engaged without silverware in Southeast Asia. No matter the differences, there are few moments more uncomfortable than someone showing poor manners at a table. Go ahead, explore your memory. You remember your moment or your kids moments when what happened at the table made you want to crawl under the table. This is an important reference, because this parable from Jesus comes by way of an awkward moment at a table.
The awkward moment comes at a table where it is understood that invited guests were a reflection of the host. If you were especially aware of social standing, you only invited those who were your equals or better. Jesus sits at one of these tables in Luke 14, the home of a prominent Pharisee, and as people are being seated according to their standing, he says to the meals host (v.12-14): When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
That is an awkward moment. We might even call it rude to sit at a meal in a home and suggest that the guest list reveals selfish motives. Jesus: I see your friends, your brothers in the faith, even a wealthy neighbor, but why did you not invite the people who could not repay with you with an invitation? Have you no poor friends? Crippled friends? Lame friends? Blind friends? A very awkward moment, eh? And this explains the verse that follows: When one of those at table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God. That is, Hey, isnt it great that well all one day be at the great table in heaven together? The goal is to dissolve the tension with a little peacemaking. To this Jesus breaks the ice into even small pieces.
Read along with me in verses 16-20: A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 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. The first said, I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me. Another said, I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and Im on my way to try them out. Please excuse me. Still another said, I just got married, so I cant come.
A great banquet in the ancient world is a big deal. And to get an invitation to a great banquet in the ancient world is to know that you are seen as a person of standing. The parable turns on the most obvious of the banquets gears: a host prepares and people come to the table. It is a story of a hosts generosity and the guests gratitude. And so the conflict. As the servant goes out to round up the invited guests, they all have excuses for why they cannot make the meal. Fields and oxen do have to be inspected upon purchase, but it can wait. Or so the host would think. A new marriage is great, but a man can leave home for a meal. Or so the host would think.
Because the host has made a meal, he takes the great step of leaving the invited behind. Read with me beginning with verse 21: The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered 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. Sir, the servant said, what you have ordered has been done, but theres still room. Then the master told his servant, Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.
The new guests resemble the ones Jesus mentioned earlier, of course. They are not people of standing, but they are willing to sit at the meal of the host, and so they come. Above all, the host wants his house full of those willing to eat at his table and enjoy his generosity. And he is more than willing to live without the formerly invited if they have no time.
The parables meaning is biting and controversial. Historically weve read this as the unwillingness of Israel to sit at the table with Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The Invited, Israel, did not show up at the table. As the kingdom broke out through John the Baptist and Himself, Jesus says, they were unwilling to see the banquet set before them. And so God invited others. These others were the not-so-perfect physically and the not-so-mobile socially. These others were the Gentiles. Above all, Jesus says, God has prepared a table rich with His generosity and has opened the doors for the near and the far to eat at His table. This is the generosity behind the gospel.
It also brings us to an application or two that we cannot undervalue.
First, there is no respectable No to Gods invitation. We cant miss the obvious in the excuses of those who turn down the meal: God sees a No as a No. Yes, there are life reasons that keep us busy. Yes, there are life commit-ments that take our time. But a No to God has no respectable edges. This must be stated, because we are not talking about someone else here. We are talking about us. This room. You. Me.
A No is not always obvious. Usually we say No to God by saying Yes to someone else. Or something else. It doesnt feel like a No. It feels like it felt to the men finishing deals on fields and oxen. It feels like it felt to a man trying to be faithful to his wife. It felt like Yes, Yes, Yes. But God heard No. It is subtle. Its not that we say No to prayer and Scripture as much as we say Yes to more television and other books. Its not that we say No to church as much as we say Yes to full weekly and weekend schedules. It never sounds like No. But the Yes to all of our opportunities to live and spend and love can become a quiet No to God. And there are no respectable Nos when we are turning down Gods invitation to follow Christwhether it be in predictable turns of our week or in the surprising turns we never see coming.
Second, God is not waiting for respectable to say Yes. This is not a small statement. The banquet of God has been offered to the formerly uninvited. As Gentiles, we are the latecomers in the parable. We may also be the socially uninvitedthe poor, crippled, blind, and lame. Other people may have left us off the invitation list, but God has not. There may be ample reasons for people to think of other people when a great banquet as been set, but God is thinking about us. His is a kingdom full of people whom no one would have listed on the team for a revolution: Jacob the conniving, Cain the murdering, Gideon the hiding, Elijah the tiring, David the cheating, Jeremiah the complaining, Peter the denying, the Samaritan woman marrying and not marrying, and Thomas the doubting.
The offer from God in Christ should look to us as the hosts offer of a banquet in the parable. The offer to follow God in Christ, to sit at the table with Him, to walk with Him, is to be taken as the invitation of all invitations. They knew a great invitation when they saw it. One commentator noted that it is self-idolatry to make God wait on you and your availability. Now is the time to say Yes.