Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
There is some irony in our parable selection today. Jesus is talking about feasts, and yet we are in Lent, a time of restraint and the mortification of the flesh. A time of self-control, a time of discipline. Certainly not a time of feasting and excess, at least not historically. But today we hear of two parables concerning feasting and suppers from Jesus who was himself at table when he told them.
Now, first of all, we must remember that Jesus is at the home of a Pharisee, a man who has invited him to dine with him, but who does not necessarily believe in Jesus’ promises or understand who Jesus truly is. Indeed, Luke says that the Pharisees there at the dinner were “watching him carefully”–they still didn’t know what this Jesus was about, and they were still looking for ways to entrap him. But for Jesus, this is a perfect time to educate these Pharisees about who he is and how his people should behave. It is also a time for him to educate us, too.
In the first parable, he describes how a feast ought to be held:
When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14, ESV)
All of what Jesus says here is really conditioned by his last statement: “for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Is Jesus talking about a run-of-the-mill dinner party, or is he speaking about something else? I would posit that he’s talking about how one ought to behave in light of how he behaves—how God behaves—in his own great Supper. One who has been transformed by faith in God and his love would model God’s own conduct in his inviting people to his own great feast at the end of days.
I think it’s fair to say that God loves losers. Jesus loves losers. A lot. And that is who Jesus says should be invited to the feast. The poor, the disabled, the lame, and the blind—they’re all losers in the Pharisees’ books (remember the question posed to Jesus about the blind man? “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?”). Something has happened to them that visited God’s judgment upon them, or they did something to earn this punishment in the flesh. They’re sinners, Gentiles, unclean. But Jesus tells his Pharisee audience that these are the ones they should be inviting to their homes and feting. They can’t repay. There’s no competitive one-upmanship to return the favor with a similar invitation. All they can offer in return is their gratitude.
And this is how we come to God’s feast. This is God’s attitude toward us. We’re losers, too, on account of sin. We’re among the cast-offs, the wretched refuse, the mediocrities, those deemed unworthy by the world. But God loves us. God loves us so much that he seats us in places of honor in his banqueting hall, and gives us the finest and choicest foods and wines. “He [brings] us to his banqueting house, his banner over [us is] love” indeed.
This is who God is. This is what God values. These are the ones who God loves. Those who know God’s love ought to love them, too, especially when they are counted among them.
And Jesus continues with his second parable, about the wealthy lord who invites people to his banquet:
“A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; 17 and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for all is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ” (Luke 14:16–24, RSV)
Of course, the parable is all about God’s call to believe in him for eternal life. The wealthy man—God— invites many—those belonging to his chosen people to whom the promise was originally given— but they reject his invitation, giving various pretexts for why they cannot or will not come. And they are all bad excuses—surely had they asked, the lord of the feast might have made provision for them. But they did not want to attend. So, invitation rejected, he invites the outcasts “in the streets of the city”—the spiritually poor and blind and lame who had been among the first invitees but who were separated. They need to hear the promise, too. And they come at his call. And there is room for still more, so he calls in those who are true outsiders—Gentiles to whom the promise was not given in the first place. The great Lord of the Supper, rejected by his people, calls in the losers from the highways and hedges to fill his house. For they receive his gifts without grumbling or bargaining or offering anything in return—they are simply grateful.
So these parables are about who Jesus is and who he loves. He is the founder of the feast, and this is how he invites us, and all people to be heirs of the promise of eternal life. How he has made a place for us at his table and given us all gifts that, apart from him, we could never receive. But how do we understand this in our Lenten observances?
Lent isn’t only a time of fasting and restraint. It is also a time of remembrance and focus. And when we hear Jesus speak these parables, they point us to remember who we are to God. That God loves us so much that he invited us all, with all of our warts, baggage, weaknesses and scars, to join him at his table, and that he feeds us, undeserving folk that we are, with the finest morsels , the very medicine of immortality, his own body and blood. And that, through his being rejected with the nailing of his hands and feet to a cross on a hill called the Place of the Skull, he would open his kingdom’s feasting hall to the spiritually blind and lame, to all the outcasts, bringing them in to fill it, making them whole. Let us remember this this Lent. And let us look forward to the coming Holy Week, not just with expectation, but with gratitude. Gratitude for that which we cannot repay. For we are fed on bread in the kingdom of heaven. Amen.