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ruleBackground

Gospels

John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

February 3, 2007

R.S.V.P.

There are some parables Jesus told that really haunt me. Is it the same for you?

The parable about the man who was forgiven much but would not forgive his neighbor of a little is one of those. It doesn't sit too well when you want to be filled with righteous indignation towards someone for a long, long time. That's not what Jesus said we need to do. In fact, he tells us over and over that how we forgive others affects how the Father forgives us.

The parable of the banquet is another story that haunts me.

Matthew places this as one of the last parables Jesus told, in the Temple, to the religious leaders of his day, as they were putting the final touches on their plan to kill him and remove his influence from their midst.

In Luke, the occasion is earlier in Jesus' ministry, when he is an invited dinner guest of a leader of the Pharisees. He teaches about places of honor in the Kingdom, Kingdom conduct, and the role of compassion, no matter whether the time seems right. And because he is at dinner, he tells the story of the Kingdom banquet.

Two different settings, but the same audience. In Matthew the minds have already been made up; the plot is underway and the hearts are hard. In Luke, there is a chance—unspoken but possible—that some at the dinner actually have ears to hear, and that Jesus' words will sink in and affect their lives. Perhaps someone like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea or the scribe who was not far from the Kingdom of God was among those present. I'd like to believe that was the case.

In the parable, the king is giving a grand wedding banquet for his son. And there is an invitation list—to come to the banquet, all you have to do is accept the invitation you've already been given.

Now, when Jesus tells this story, his audience—the religious leaders—know exactly which banquet he is speaking about. It's the eschatological banquet in Isaiah 25:6–10. In the banquet that Isaiah prophesies is a vision of how God will have the world turn out when the Kingdom arrives. The banquet will be for all peoples, and it will feature the best of food and wine. And in this place, the people who have come will see that God has dealt with the curse that affects us all—death—forever.

In this place, God will take away all suffering, sorrow, grief and sadness. In this place, God take away the shadow of sin, the disgrace of his people, from the earth. The prophecy goes like this:

On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.

In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” The hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

This is the place where God will save us. The place we're all trying to get to. The place where God will deal with the big problems that have plagued humanity for all time. The place where everything we long for, down in the deepest core of our being, ends up being true and real and present.

Who would not want to be present at this banquet? Who would not want to be in the Kingdom?

And yet.

And yet, Jesus—who is God—tells this parable. And in this parable, people are either not interested enough in the banquet and make lame excuses for not accepting the invitation... or they really do believe their excuses and think they have all the time in the world to accept the invitation. They'll get around to it some day, they think. In Matthew's version (Matthew 22:1–14), the people with the invitation actually actively oppose and work against the banquet, and, by association, the Kingdom.

Can I say that again? The is THE banquet we are talking about, folks. It's the banquet where, when we've lost a loved one, we say 'Someday we will be with them again.' It's the banquet where, when we look around at all the violence and hatred in the world, we say, 'Someday there will be no more war.' It's the banquet where we look at parts of the world that are so downtrodden, so living in darkness and we say, 'Someday, God's gonna make things right. Nobody's going to have to live like that anymore.' It's the banquet where we feel deep down in our aging, diseased bones that God will bring us to a place where our bodies will be raised up, our health will be restored, and there will be no more infirmities, no more medications, no more doctors and hospitals and nursing homes and funerals. It's the Kingdom we're talking about here. The big enchilada. Heaven.

And yet. And yet Jesus tells us that people who know the story, who understand the promises, actively, in their daily lives, decide not to come. They put it off. They put other things first.

Why? Deep down, why?

'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.'
'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.'
‘I just got married, so I can't come.'
They made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.

We've got things we've purchased and want to admire and play with. We have made plans for ourselves that we want to carry out. We've got the pleasures of married life, of family life to consider. There's the busyness of earning a living and trying to get ahead, because if you don't look out for yourself, who will? That's what these people gave as their excuses. They sound familiar.

'They made light of it.' Maybe they doubt it's a real promise. It sounds like a fairy tale, something that will never come true. It hasn't happened yet, has it? It's some rumor that will never materialize. Perhaps they believe they'll always be able to commit later. In the meantime, they've got a life to live.

What does it mean to accept the invitation, to come to the banquet? One thing it means is to drop your perspective and priorities for God's. To allow God to provide for you and have a relationship with you on his terms. To surrender to this kind of living. To decide that what God wants for you is what you will freely accept.

It's funny, isn't it, that we humans have these deep longings—for peace and rest, for an end to suffering, to be loved for who we are. God wants us to come to his banquet where all this will become real and true. But we refuse his invitation.

Ever since I was a child, I've been struck by the fact that the most dramatic conversions and stories of changed lives always seem to come from the kinds of people at the end of Jesus' parable. The ones the king throws open the doors of his banquet to when the people with invitations refuse to R.S.V.P.

Out into the streets the king's servant's are told to go, gathering all who would come, both good and bad. The poor, the lame, the crippled, the blind. And still more people are compelled to come in. People from 'outside the city,' foreigners, immigrants, the disreputable.

All I can figure is that these people know better than the rest of us do who they are. After all, people like us keep telling them who they are. They know they could sure use a banquet.

The rest of us? We get by and we think we're OK. Until we're looking at an illness or a death. Until we are faced with financial uncertainty or catastrophe. Until we wake up in the middle of the night with that feeling of unease, that realization of fear. We realize with a start that we are not OK on our own.

We need the banquet. We know it. Deep down inside, we know.

Now, where did we put that invitation? It's time to R.S.V.P.

.

A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses.

The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

—Luke 14:16–24