For the second week in a row the subject of food appears in our Bible reading. Last week we thought about Jesus sending out teams of two into the local towns and places that he was about to go (Luke 10:1). His teams were instructed to accept the hospitality of food and drink and shelter they were offered, as part of the process of building relationships, healing the sick, and declaring that the Kingdom of God is near (Luke 10:8-9).
Todays Bible reading is quite different because Jesus himself is in the process of accepting hospitality that has been offered to him. The context is this: "One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched" (14:1). Jesus is eating in the home of a top, respected religious teacher and all eyes are on him. What will Jesus do? What will Jesus say? But Jesus knows he is being watched, and he is also being observant.
Jesus is very aware of what is going on around him. He notices that the guests at this dinner are jostling for position picking out the places of honour at the table (14:7). Rather than keep quiet, Jesus addresses what he sees, and as was often the case Jesus speaks wisdom by telling parables.
Whats a parable? A parable is a story that paints a picture, with a punchy, poignant, pertinent point. Today were starting a series of Sunday morning talks entitled Jesus the storyteller where each week we will focus upon a different parable that Jesus told, asking ourselves the questions, What did that story mean to those who first heard it, what was shocking about the story, and whats the challenge for us?
When people heard the parables of Jesus they didnt usually hear them and think, Oh yes, thats a lovely little story. Well done Jesus. Usually, the parables of Jesus were challenging, shocking and controversial.
If we are to be and to become more and more Christs Church, then we must be ready for the challenge and the shock that the teaching of Jesus will bring; and we must be ready to live out a message for our community that will be challenging, shocking and controversial. Does the message of Jesus shock you? Does the message of Jesus change the way you relate to God? Does the message of Jesus change the way you live? I believe it should. I believe it must!
So Jesus is eating a meal himself (14:1), surrounded by many other invited guests who were desperate for the most prominent places around the table (14:7), and he starts to tell a story (14:16): A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests! Hey, hang on, they mustve been thinking, Were at a banquet, and weve been invited here. Is this a story about us? Jesus grabs the attention of everyone at the meal immediately, and he wants to grab our attention. Will we listen to Jesus?
So, with all eyes and ears on Jesus he tells this parable: At the time of the banquet [the master] sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, Come, for everything is now ready (14:17). Now, it is quite possible that the owner of the house where Jesus was eating as he told this story had done exactly that himself! Typically, back then, the verbal invitation went out, a verbal reply was given, and then on the day itself, the servant would go out to tell and remind the guests that it was time to come. The guests would all be local, living within walking distance, and so this story is not only ringing true, but the guests around the table with Jesus can see themselves in the story.
Jesus the Story-Teller is using a parable to teach, and now come the excuses from the invited guests in the story; but as we hear the excuses we need to remember that almost certainly, a bit like sending out wedding invitations today, the guests had previously already replied to say they were coming.
But the day of the Great Banquet has arrived, the servant has come to call the guests, and the excuses start flooding in. As Jesus is telling this parable he says that they all alike began to make excuses (14:18). Now, I could be wrong here, but I believe that there was more than a hint of humour in this part of the parable. I can imagine Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson acting out this story as Blackadder and Baldrick, with Baldrick coming up with various lame excuses as to why Blackadder cant attend the great banquet hes already been invited to.
One said, I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it (14:18). I sense a ripple of laughter around the table, although of course some of the guests listening to Jesus were there to watch him closely, and they might well have had faces like dried prunes.
Have you ever come up with the lamest of excuses to get out of something youd previously agreed to do?
Another says, Ive just bought five yoke of oxen [a small herd of cattle], and Im on my way to try them out (14:19). In other words, my latest business venture, or my latest toy is far more important than this Great Banquet Im supposed to be attending.
Another invited guest says, Ive just got married, so I cant come (14:20). Oh yes, Baldrick, a most wonderful excuse! Youve known for months that you were getting married, youve known for a while about your invitation to the Great Banquet, and when the day comes youre going to use that as your excuse.
All 3 were lame excuses, but theyre also examples of things, preferences, distractions, commitments, material belongings, occupations and relationships that we ourselves might use as excuses and reasons to avoid the most important things in life; and Jesus was talking about the most important invitation that has ever been issued to humanity. Gods invitation!
Jesus continues with his story. The servant reports back to his master who becomes understandably angry when he hears that the entire guest list has decided to go off and do something else. He then orders his servant to go out into the streets (14:21), and later into the country lanes nearby (14:23) until the house is full. The Servant is commanded to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame (14:21), and in Jesus parable the Master of the Banquet ends with these words: I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet (14:24).
We are not told about the reaction of the guests around the table to this parable; but there can be no doubt that they were shocked and challenged. Jesus told his parable in response to someone at the table saying: Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God (14:15). Jesus was alluding to Gods invitation to his Heavenly Banquet.
During the ministry of Jesus, and throughout Church history, the invitation has continued to be issued. God says, Come and many hear the invitation. It is an invitation to be in relationship with the maker of the universe. It is an invitation for sins to be forgiven, and it is an invitation to enter into everything that God has in store for those who love him.
So, what is your reaction to the invitation of God? Youre invited to be in relationship with him now. Youre invited to know the peace of mind that comes from forgiveness and having a guilty conscience healed. Youre invited to journey through life with Jesus. Youre invited to be transformed into the person God designed you to be, and when this life ends whenever or however that might be you are invited to Gods Banquet. Did you hear that? Youre invited to Gods Heavenly Feast! Will you accept the invitation? Will you come to Gods Banquet or will excuses and other priorities prevent you?