TEXT:  Luke 14:15-24

Who likes a good party?

Me, too! And, you know what? Some people know how to throw a good party! I had a friend named Walter. Not that long ago, his family threw him a 90th birthday bash … and it was an absolute blast!

Oh, sure, maybe Walter got a bit rowdy … But, hey! It was his party!

Kidding aside … Isn’t it a joy—and an honour—to be invited to a party? Isn’t it fun to get together with people, just to enjoy each other’s company? No matter what the occasion—whether it’s a birthday, or a backyard barbeque, or an anniversary, or a wedding reception, or whatever—gathering with friends is one of the great joys of life. Isn’t it?

If you read last week’s post, you may remember that Jesus was at a dinner party.

Jesus was at a Pharisee’s house to enjoy a meal on the Sabbath. In today’s gospel passage, he’s still there. Today, we get to hear the conclusion of the story Luke began telling us last week. Do you recall what happened?

What happened was this: to begin with, Jesus sat back and observed for a while as the other guests jockeyed for the most prominent seats—and as the host welcomed all the high-class big shots whom he hoped would reciprocate with invitations and introductions (I think that’s called “networking”).

So Jesus watched all of this going on … until, apparently, he couldn’t stand it anymore, and he began to lecture all of them about proper etiquette.

To paraphrase, here’s the gist of what he said:

“When you are invited to a banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour. No. Sit down at the lowest place, so your host may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ And when you give a dinner, do not invite your friends, or your family, or your well-to-do neighbors. No. Instead, go scour the gutters of the town, and invite the dregs of the earth—the most wretched people you can find … because there’s no way they can repay you. And remember: those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (see Luke 14:7-14)

Embarrassing, or what? Who invited this guy? Words of truth do not go over very well when all you’re trying to do is have a good time.

Anyway, Jesus also says that—if you follow his advice about guest lists—you can expect to be “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (14:14). Now, this comment causes a light to go on for one of the other guests, who realizes that these words look to the future—to the great Messianic banquet at the end of time. So this fellow exclaims: “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

And then things get really interesting, because that comment inspires Jesus to tell a story about another man who threw a party.

Now, here’s something you need to understand: the custom in Jesus’ day was to send out two invitations. The first invitation said, “I’m having a party and you’re invited.” All the guests sent back their RSVPs, saying they were honoured to be invited, and to count on them to come. When the preparations were completed, the host sent out a servant to bring the second invitation, which said, “Come! It’s time. Everything is ready.”

Well, in this story, the unthinkable happens. One after the other, all the guests make feeble excuses. The food and drink has been bought and paid for. The decorations are put up in the hall. The DJ has been hired.

But no one is coming.

Today, when people RSVP and then don’t show up—or when they call at the last minute with an excuse … Well, you might be a little hurt or disappointed—but it’s not that big a deal, right? However, in Jesus’ day, it was very different. To decline after accepting an invitation?That was a terrible insult, an egregious social offense.

Some tribes or families literally went to war over such things! Turning down an invitation could have major consequences. But these slobs don’t care.

The first guest says, “I know I said I would come, but I’m too busy. I just bought a piece of land and I have to go out and see it.”

Sounds a little lame, doesn’t it? How many of you would purchase a piece of property without seeing it first? And besides, could you not go check out the property the following day?  

The second guest says, “I know I said I would come, but … I just bought five yoke of oxen, and I need to try them out.”

Okay, I’ve got to ask … How many of you would buy an ox, sight unseen?

Or to put it another way … Would you buy a car without test-driving it? It sounds like a pretty flimsy excuse—right up there with … “Sorry, I can’t come, I have to wash my hair!”

The third guest tells the servant, “Sorry, I thought I could come, but I can’t … because I just got married.”

You just got married? What was the rush? Like, you didn’t already know this a month ago? A Jewish wedding was a long-anticipated community event; it lasted about a week, and the entire village was invited. The groom would have long known that the party would conflict with the wedding plans.

Well, when the servant returns with this news, the host is livid with rage. He has planned the event carefully. It has cost him an enormous sum. And—now that the preparations are completed for this grand party—everybody is backing out! These invited guests have insulted him and dishonoured him.

That’s what it was all about back then—honour. This was equivalent to spitting in the guy’s face. You might as well have said, “I’ve changed my mind; you throw lousy parties, anyway!”

As Jesus told them about the impertinence of these invited guests, I’m sure the others at the Pharisee’s home were shaking their heads in disgust.

But then, as Jesus continues his story, we discover that the host responds to this affront in a most unexpected way—a way that would, in fact, have shocked everybody who heard about it. He sends his servant out into the streets and alleys to invite the poor, the beggars, the crippled, the blind and the lame. That’s right—the dregs of the earth! The most wretched people he could find.

The master wants a full house. And so, when the servant returns and says the table’s not full yet, he sends him out into the countryside—“into the roads and lanes”—to invite still others to come. Instead of seeking vengeance—instead of returning spite for spite—the host demonstrates generosity and magnanimity.

This parable offers us a glimpse of the kingdom of God. What is this story saying? It is saying that God’s invitation is inclusive, rather than exclusive. God’s invitation to come to the table is broad and wide, rather than narrow and selective. It is extended to all persons, regardless of who they are.

According to Jesus, we are in for a big surprise when we sit down at the Lord’s heavenly table. Why? Because we will be dining with people we never dreamed would be there! And likewise, they may be just as surprised to see us.

God is a host who loves to throw parties. God throws parties whenever someone shows up at his door. How do I know this? Well, in part, because of the stories Jesus tells in the following chapter of Luke. All the stories he tells in chapter 15 are metaphors for God—for the way God is. A shepherd finds a lost sheep and throws a party. A woman finds a lost coin and throws a party. A prodigal son returns home and his father throws a party.

As the King James Bible puts it, God “is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

God desires all people to come to his banquet. God invites people from all walks of life. But he compels no one.

If I understand Jesus’ message here, he is telling us this: God gives us the freedom to respond—to either accept, or reject, the invitation he extends. 

Think about that. God has invited us—you and me—to a party in his kingdom.

What is evangelism? It’s nothing more or less than an invitation to God’s banquet. Through the church’s evangelistic message—which is us sharing our faith with others—the invitations are being sent out. 

We accept this invitation by faith—by responding to what Christ has done on our behalf. Through trusting and following him, we say “yes” to God’s gracious invitation. 

Is this not glorious news? There is an invitation to God’s banquet with your name on it! No one of us deserves that kind of hospitality. No one of us can earn a place at the table. The guest list has been put together by the King of heaven—and it includes every person who has ever lived—or who will ever live! The only thing that keeps us outside is our refusal to accept the invitation.

Jesus’ words here, in the Gospel of Luke, are timeless. They were not just meant for those Pharisees and dinner guests on that long-ago Sabbath evening. They were meant for all of us—and for everyone who looks for the kingdom of God.

This kingdom has come in Christ—though not completely, and we await its final coming. In reporting this story, Luke affords us a glimpse of what God’s banquet—God’s feast, God’s kingdom—is going to be like. It’s a place where the humble are exalted and the exalted are humbled. It’s a place where the least worthy of us are made welcome. It’s a place where seats of honour are neither reserved nor sought after—because all are equally held in the love and grace that extends from the table.

Do you want to grow your church? Here’s an idea: tell people about the banquet! Invite a neighbour. Invite a friend. Better still—invite an enemy, and make a friend! Say to them, “Come, for everything is now ready. The preparations have been completed, and the bill has been paid.”

All you have to do is show up.

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