Scripture: Luke 14:15-24
Have you ever thought about the excuses we give for failing to do something? CNN.com reported these real excuses for being late to work
1. While rowing across the river to work, I got lost in the fog.
2. Someone stole all my daffodils.
3. I had to go audition for American Idol.
4. My ex-husband stole my car so I couldn't drive to work.
5. My route to work was shut down by a Presidential motorcade.
6. I have transient amnesia and couldn't remember my job.
7. I was indicted for securities fraud this morning.
8. The line was too long at Starbucks.
9. I was trying to get my gun back from the police.
10. I didn't have money for gas because all of the pawn shops were closed.
Today we are continuing to study unique passages in the gospel of Luke. Today we are going to focus in on a dinner Jesus has with some religious leaders in Luke 14. Just so you know this was not the first dinner Jesus had been invited to. Back in Luke 7 Jesus was invited to a dinner and in the midst of that dinner a woman with a bad reputation came in and stared rubbing Jesus' feet. You would think by now Jesus would have been banned from these dinners, but we have him attending another dinner.
It was common in Jesus' day for religious leaders to invite traveling preachers like Jesus in for dinner so they could test his theology. Beginning in chapter 14 of Luke, the dinner begins on the Sabbath day and so what does Jesus do right off the bat. He heals a guy with dropsy, which was the swelling of tissue due to having excess water. Jesus heals the guy, then turns around and tells the people that they should not strive to have the best seats, but they should take the worst seats and wait to be invited to the seats of honor.
One thing to note about dinners in Jesus' day was that they were done as a way of achieving social status. Therefore you would want to invite the best guest and you would want to attend the best dinners. Beginning in verse 12, Jesus then turns to the host and gives him some advice about hosting a dinner. He says,
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.
13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Jesus is playing on the idea that the host is only inviting people to his dinner who can repay him for his generosity. Jesus tells him that he should invite those who cannot repay him so that God can reward him. As Jesus is giving his dinner host some advice, Luke records this, "One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, "Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!"" For sure, this man was making a comparison of this meal that he was currently eating to the meal that he anticipated having when the Kingdom of God was established. It is hard to know for sure what his motivation for saying this was, but I think he is trying to bring the focus off of the poor and on to those gathered around the table. In other words, he was saying that the ones around the table are the ones who are blessed because they eat bread in God's kingdom. In response to this statement, Jesus shares the following parable,
Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now.'18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.' 19 Another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.' 20 Another said, 'I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.'21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.'22 And the slave said, 'Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.'23 Then the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.'"
The Excuses that We Make
In Jesus' parable, he tells the story of a wealthy person who throws a party. The clue that he is wealthy comes from the fact that it was a "great" party and "many" people were invited. It would have been customary for two dinner requests to go out; one invited them to come so that they would know how many people would come in order to know how much food to prepare. Then, the servant would go back out and issue a second invitation to come to the dinner. In Jesus' parable, the group who initially says yes to the invitation declines the second one after the food has been prepared.
You can imagine that this would not make the dinner host too happy as it would not be too pleasing for us today. This would be like us inviting a group of people over to the house and then have them initially say yes, but then when the food is cooked deciding not to come.
To make matters worse, Jesus tells of three of the excuses given for not showing up. The first one says he has bought a piece of land and has to go inspect it. Think about this for a second. He bought some land without looking at it first, not too bright. This would be like us buying a house to live in without looking at the inside of it. The second guy says that he has bought 5 yoke to plow a field and now must go test them out. This would be like us buying a car without test driving it. Finally a guy says that he just got married and he can't come. This is a better excuse, but he knew he was married when he accepted the invitation the first time. His wife will still be around after the dinner is over. These excuses are just that, they are excuses.
I am reminded of some of the excuses that I hear about why people do not accept the invitation to follow Jesus. My favorite is this; I am not a Christian because of all the hypocrites. I do agree that there are hypocrites that claim to be Christians. Sometimes I find myself being the chief hypocrite. I am afraid to put a Christian bumper sticker on my truck just in case my driving is not too good.
Sometimes I hear people saying, "Christianity is outdated." Again, I understand that the Bible was written a long time ago, but again, this is just an excuse to never consider its truthfulness.
Oftentimes I will hear a person says, "I can be a moral person without being a Christian." Again, I am not saying someone couldn't be moral and a non-Christian, but this still does not deal with whether or not someone should follow Jesus.
The problem is that these excuses do not address the real issue. It is just an excuse people give. Just like the three guys in this story were giving excuses to cover up their real reasons for not coming, so too do we for not following Jesus.
Deep down inside the reason these three guys decided not to come to the party is because they probably had what they thought was a better offer. Deep down the reason we decide not to accept Jesus' invitation is because we think we know better and we do not want to change.
The Graciousness in the Response
If the excuses given by these three guests are not shocking enough, the response by the host would have blown Jesus' listeners out of the water. The expectation would have been for the host to get made and get even, which would have been justified. He was just humiliated. Instead, he responds by telling his servant to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame, which are the very persons Jesus told us he was sent to bring good news to in chapter 4. Then, when there was still room, he told his servant to go out to the roads and lanes and invite more people to come so that it would be full. Instead of getting justice from those who rejected the invitation, the host went out and invited as many people as he could so that the table would be full.
Traditionally this has been interpreted to mean that God first invites the Jews of higher standing, and then when they do not respond, he invites the poor among the Jews and then finally the Gentiles. While I do believe these three layers of meaning are in the text, I think he was using this to illustrate the graciousness of the host in inviting all to the table. God's invitation is not based on exclusive categories, but is open to all who will respond.
Inviting Others to the Party
One of the things that struck me the most about the parable was the language Jesus used in describing how the slave was to get people to come to the party. He tells him to "bring" in the lame and to "compel" people to come to the dinner. Why would the second and third groups need to be "compelled" to come?
In Jesus' day, only those of great honor would be welcomed and invited to the party because it was only the wealthy who could reciprocate the favor. The poor among them would not have found themselves to be worthy to come to the party. The dinner host is invited those who felt unworthy to come.
Of all the excesses I have heard for people not following Jesus, I have found one to be legitimate. I have heard people say, "I am not worthy of all Jesus has for me." The dinner host tells the servant to "compel" them to come. In other words, he tells them to make it so they come, even if they don't feel worthy to come.
I know that I have often felt unworthy of the grace of God. I guess that is why it is called grace. Nobody is every worthy, but this does not keep God from extending the invitation for us to follow Jesus.
I believe Jesus' challenge for us to be people who will go out and compel people to follow Jesus. In the words of one of our speakers at Annual Conference in Lake Junaluska, we are to be a "go out church" not a "come to church." This morning we set up 350 chairs so that we could see that there is still room in this building for people to come. Our job is to "go out" and invite people to the party so we can follow Jesus together.