Trinity 2 – June 9th and 10th, 2018 – Luke 14:15-24
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
They lied. They lied. When they said why they “couldn't” come, they were lying. Oh, some of them used the proper, polite language – animals, fields, please have me excused. Others hid behind loopholes – in the 1st Century a Jewish newlywed was excused from all social obligations. But none of these were reasons they couldn't come – they just didn't want to come. Oxen and fields could wait, and even a newly wed wife knows that there are just some parties her husband ought to be at. The simple truth is that they just did not want to come.
When Jesus tells this parable, He is at a dinner that He had been invited to. It was a Sabbath Dinner at the house of a “ruler of the Pharisees”. And it had been a lousy dinner for Jesus – it's the one where there was the fellow who had dropsy, and they were all eye balling Jesus to see if He'd heal the poor schlub. And once Jesus actually heals the guy and tells them why it's fine that He healed the guy, the Pharisees try to ignore Jesus and carry on as though he weren't there. If there would have been a dinner to skip out on, that would have been the one to skip! But no, Jesus is there, and He teaches these obstinate, proud Pharisees. And He gives this parable. And note – in the story, the feast would have been fantastic – a “great” banquet. We aren't talking cold cuts and deli trays (not that there's anything wrong with that). We aren't even talking a pork chop pot luck, as lovely as that is. We are talking cruise line catering, prime rib, Michelin Stars the top of the top sort of dinner party. One that no person in their right mind would skip.
And the three people who were invited, they just didn't want to go to the party. In reality, they just didn't like the host that much, didn't trust him. Figured his idea of a feast wouldn't be up to their standards – and they played the utter fool. So they miss it. And here's where the parable turns. Their foolishness doesn't stop the master of the feast – he orders his servants, “Go out quickly to the streets and the lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Alright, if the “good” people don't want to come – just bring in the people they'd spit upon. Dinner's ready, and by George we are going eat and celebrate. But then the servant says, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” And the master said, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”
Now, think like a Pharisee for a moment. The main reason why you didn't like Jesus was He kept preaching and teaching and dining with the poor and sinful and scummy, the ones not worthy of your high society. Do you see what Jesus is saying to the Pharisees? If you don't want to be with Me, be with the Messiah, if you don't want a Savior – I'm not going to sit on a block of ice crying because you are stupid – I'll gladly save the poor and lame and the nastiest of the nasty – the highwaymen and bandits and even robbers crucified on a cross next to me. But as for you, if you want to keep on with your stubborness, well - “for I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” Pout all you want, Pharisees, about how your prestige and “goodness” aren't appreciated, how you're losing your privilege and respect. God's plan of salvation still carries on... and if you are determined to have it carry on without you, well, too bad for you.
Now, the question that remains for us today, my dear friends in Christ, is how do we folks gathered here today “hear” this parable? Because there is a great danger, a terrible way to misunderstand this parable. In this parable Christ does give a dire warning to the Pharisees – if you blow off the feast, if you blow off Christ Jesus, then you are lost. As the Apostle says: And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. That's just the way it is. But here's the problem. Here we are at Church – at the feast - and instead of hearing this as a warning to us, as a reminder to us that we ought not get proud and smug like the Pharisees, a warning that we ought not get all high and mighty and think that we just wonderful people unlike the rest... we can hear this parable through a filter of pride and smugness. We can look around and say, “Hmmm... lots of people not here. Not like it used to be in the old days.” And we can nurture little fires of condescension towards our neighbor. That's not what this parable is for. Jesus doesn't tell it to its first hearers to increase their pride but to break it.
And that's how we must hear it too. One of the dangers of our sinful flesh is that it loves to compare, and it especially loves to compare in a way that places ME above someone else. I'm better than them. The problem is this runs completely against the message of salvation in Christ Jesus. It trashes the Gospel. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Whenever I think I'm better than other people, I'm no longer looking for my own Savior – and I certainly don't want them treated as well I'm treated – I deserve to be treated better than them! That's why the Pharisees couldn't see, couldn't understand Jesus. They couldn't figure out why He would waste His time with scum. They couldn't conceive that He actually loves those people. The Pharisees couldn't even see that that Jesus loved the Pharisees. The Pharisees were so caught up in fighting for position and prestige, that they didn't see Jesus' love when He was sitting with them at dinner. They missed the feast and wouldn't come when the feast was right in front of them! Therefore we ought to repent, and we ought to fight against and beat down and put to death any thought or desire in us that would make us smug and ignore Christ Jesus.
Because there is no smugness in Christ. Instead, He shows love, over and over again to the unworthy. Love to us. The great feast of eternal life is indeed prepared because Jesus Christ, in perfect love, went to the cross for you and died for your sins, for your smugness and pride, for the disdain you show. And He went to the Cross and died for those who suffer in this world, for those who are caught up in sin, for those who have fallen into Spiritual blindness. He died for all. He prepared salvation for all. Honestly, truly. In full. Every sin ever done, He took it up and put it to death upon the Cross.
Here is another danger, another way we can botch this parable. We can mishear the last sentence, where the master says, “for I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” We can hear that and start viewing it in terms of “well, this person doesn't qualify anymore because they did X.” No, this isn't about figuring out who out there “qualifies” for the Gospel, who out there is “good enough” to be saved because we aren't saved by our works – rather we are saved by grace that is given freely to us, while we are dead in trespasses. The Master isn't forbidding the excuse makers from showing up – if one of them came running up and sheepishly said, “the fields can wait” - he would have come in. But that just wasn't going to happen. He doesn't say they can't come, just that they shall not. It isn't going to happen, not because of the master, but because of them.
And he can say that because he's the master. God Himself knows who won't come in the end – but you and I are not God, and we have absolutely no business trying to figure out or even worse presuming that the Holy Spirit won't work faith in some person and bring them to the feast. We aren't the master, we are the servants. And so when we see someone who isn't here and should be (which frankly is everyone who isn't here), we don't condemn them, we don't consign them to hell, we don't cross them off the list. We view them as blind and lame and crippled – we view them as poor miserable sinners who need to be forgiven – so we proclaim the Gospel. Jesus has died for you: come to the feast where there is forgiveness, where there is baptism and preaching and absolution and the Lord's Supper – come, and receive life from Christ. And we treat them that way even if they are “bad” - even if they have hurt us. So what if they are bad – I'm the foremost sinner, I'm the biggest sinner I know, and if Christ died for even an evil jerk like me, covering those sins (even those sins that hurt me) is small potatoes. Go out to the highways and hedges – that's where the really bad people are – the robbers and muggers and murderers. There is forgiveness, even for them. And Christ would have His house full. Call them to His house as you come across them – because you can tell them with absolute Gospel certainty that Christ has died for them and loves them and wants them to receive forgiveness and life in His name – and that He will pour it upon them abundantly at Trinity.
And some won't listen. And some will put up excuse after excuse – maybe old excuses and maybe new ones. We have our own sinful flesh to fight against – we know how those temptations work. But Christ Jesus has poured His Spirit upon you, making you new, giving you strength to put your sinful flesh to death: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” And when that is scary, when your sin looms large as you fight against it, remember, that even today the call goes out – come to the feast. Come, for all things are ready, for Christ has died and has risen, and He has done this for you, so that you are indeed forgiven. And He shall come again, and you will be raised to life in His name. This is His sure and certain promise to you, out of His great love for you. In the Name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +