Luke 14:15-24; 1 John 3:13-18; Proverbs 9:1-10
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The setting for today’s Gospel is the house of a ruler of the Pharisees to which Jesus had been invited for the observance of the Sabbath. However, Luke tells us that this was no friendly invitation, for the scribes and the Pharisees “were watching Him closely.”
Knowing that He had their undivided attention, He took the opportunity to teach them by example. There was a man with dropsy before them. Dropsy was a form of edema, a retaining of fluid causing swelling of organs and tissue. Jesus asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Of course, the answer is, “Yes! It is always lawful to show mercy, love, and compassion, because love is the fulfilling of the Law.” But, they remained silent, so Jesus took him and healed him and sent him on his way. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” Still, they had nothing to say.
You see, they knew that Jesus was right. For the scribes and the Pharisees, the question was not so much whether it was lawful or not to heal on the Sabbath, than, rather, who it was that was to be healed. What they would unquestionably do for their own kin or possession, they would not do for someone they judged to be of a status beneath them, unworthy, or unclean.
Next, Jesus instructed them about the godly virtues of humility and selflessness. Noticing that they chose the places of honor at the banquet table, Jesus said to them: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Similarly, Jesus said to the man who had invited Him: “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. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
This teaching addressed the same problem as the first: selfishness, self-righteousness, and pride. When you love yourself, you cannot love your brother and neighbor in need. And, as we heard in last Sunday’s Epistle, “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
All of this serves as the context and setting for today’s Gospel. It was immediately following Jesus’ teaching about showing mercy on the Sabbath and the godly virtues of humility and selflessness that one of the Pharisees who reclined at table with Him said to Jesus, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Jesus did not correct the man, for, indeed, he was correct, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” However, what the man was incorrect about was who would be in attendance at that banquet: the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, not to mention, Gentiles from every tribe, people, language, and nation. Therefore, Jesus answered the man by telling a parable, the Parable of the Great Banquet.
“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready’.” At first, the invitation went out to a few selected guests, the children of Israel with whose father, Abraham, God had made a covenant of grace, counting his faith in His promise to him as righteousness. That covenant was passed down to Isaac and Jacob, to Moses, and all the way to David. The covenant was for the children of Israel, but it was not only for them. Indeed, the children of Israel, themselves, were chosen for the redemption of the entire world.
God’s covenant with Abraham included these specific words: “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Israel was blessed that they might be a blessing. They were chosen to be a beacon light in a world of sin and darkness. They were to be leaven, leavening the entire lump of sinful humanity. And, they were to be salt, seasoning the world with the Word of the LORD that men might repent and be adopted into His covenant of grace as sons and co-heirs.
Of course, that covenant, and all of its reiterations over the course of 1,500 years of history, was fulfilled, not in the son of Abraham, but in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom He put forward and offered up as the full and perfect sacrifice for the sins of world. And, that is precisely what the scribes and the Pharisees did not accept, would not, could not, and refused to believe – that the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, not to mention, Gentiles from every tribe, people, language, and nation, would recline with them at the banquet of the King in the kingdom of heaven.
The man reclining at table with Jesus was indeed correct: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” However, he did not know or believe how correct he was. For him “everyone” did not include everyone. Particularly, his “everyone” did not include the man with dropsy whom Jesus healed, the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, the Gentiles, nor, increasingly, even Jesus Himself.
In Jesus’ parable, the man giving the great banquet sent his servant to call his invited guests saying, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But, they all began to make excuses. Each of them had something they deemed to be more important, or of more value to them presently, than eating bread with the master at the great banquet to which they had been invited.
Perhaps the significance of the invited guests’ refusal is somewhat lost on us in our culture, for such a refusal in first century Israel would have been a great insult, not only to the master, but in the eyes of all the people. It was customary in Jesus’ day to first invite guests to a feast weeks or months in advance and, later, when the feast was prepared, a message was sent to those invited to come to the feast. It was the second invitation that the invitees in Jesus’ parable rejected.
But, remember, this is a parable. Therefore, the master of the feast is the LORD, and the invitees are the children of Israel. Moreover, they were invited, first, through the covenant of grace that the LORD made to Abraham. Then, in the self-offering and sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, all that was necessary for them to join in the great banquet in the kingdom of heaven was prepared, finished, and complete. The LORD sent His Son, just as the prophets had proclaimed, to announce this Good News and call the invited guests to the feast. This was the second invitation, which they rejected.
Therefore, the master, the LORD, has extended the invitation to those that the first invitees were to have invited on His behalf: the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, and the Gentiles. He sent His servants, His prophets, pastors, evangelists to go “to the streets and lanes of the city” and “to the highways and hedges” and call the people, no, to compel the people, “to come in, that [His] house may be filled.” And then, following that rich proclamation of grace, Jesus adds the harsh result of the first invitees’ rejection: “None of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
God’s invitation to eternal life and salvation is universal. It has been signed, sealed, and delivered to the world in Jesus Christ. He is for everyone, without exception, and that is the Truth. All who trust in Him with Spirit-given faith, all who cling to Him and do not let go, all who receive His Baptism and do not reject Him will be saved. Therefore, why do so many people say “No”? They say “No” because they are idolaters, fearing, loving, and trusting in created things before and above the LORD and Creator of all things. They say “No” because they falsely judge themselves righteous, or at least better than others. They say “No” because they believe that, by their good works, they are secure in their invitation to the great banquet in the kingdom of heaven saying, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Yet, as true as that statement is, another is also true: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
“Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.” This is a biblical wisdom way of saying, “Come, for everything is now ready.” The LORD’s Passover Lamb, Jesus, has laid down His life in sacrificial death for you that you may come, eat, and live. All that was necessary for you to join in the great banquet of the kingdom of heaven has been prepared and accomplished for you. Come, and eat. Come, and drink. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
The Lord invites you this day to partake of the feast He has prepared as a foretaste of the great banquet that is yet to come. Receiving what God gives is the highest form of worship.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.