We are just finishing that time of year when many people have experienced a significant milestone in their life. The month of May is the time of graduations. High school seniors graduate as they complete a major part of their education and now have to look towards what they are going to do in the next stage of life. College seniors graduate and they have to make decisions about finding a job or continuing on to graduate school. And, as we experienced last Sunday here at Good Shepherd, catechumens are confirmed as they complete catechesis and the Church rejoices that our Lord’s mandate of making disciples by baptizing and teaching has been carried out in their lives.
And all of these events mean something else – they mean month of May is the season of open houses. Parents have open houses to celebrate graduations and confirmations. They invite their family and friends to come to their house and join them for some food and beverages in honor of their son or daughter.
This means that May is also the season of invitations. It is the time when we receive invitations to these events. And when an invitation like this arrives we usually do some evaluating. There is, first of all, the basic question of whether we are able to go – are we going to be in town and do we already have some commitment?
Next there is the question of whether we want to go. There are people who are good friends we enjoy and so going to an open house is a no brainer. There are also those people that are more than acquaintances and perhaps less than real friends. We may not feel all that motivated to attend the event. Because after all, it is not as if there will be no cost to us. If you attend an open house you are probably committing yourself to bring some kind of gift.
And then there is the question of whether we need to go. There are times when the nature of our relationship with the family involved doesn’t really leave us any other option than to attend. It may not be the first thing we want to do. Yet the nature of our relationship with the family doesn’t really give us any choice. We may not be dying to go, but we really don’t have the option not to go.
In our text today, Jesus tells a parable about three people who receive invitations to a banquet. In their situation, it was very clear that they needed to go. However, they decided instead that they didn’t want to go – and so they didn’t. In the parable, Jesus teaches us about the Gospel gift that God graciously extends to all people. And he also reminds us about the responsibility inherent in being a believer in Jesus Christ.
In our text this morning, Jesus has been invited to eat at the home of a leader of the Pharisees on the Sabbath. While there, the Pharisees have been watching him carefully and Jesus has left them speechless when he asked whether it is permissible to heal a man on the Sabbath – an action which Jesus then performs.
Next, Jesus has watched the behavior of the guests at the supper. The ancient Mediterranean world was incredibly focused on public honor and status. Jesus had seen how the guests each tried to get a position at the table that provided the most honor. Instead, our Lord told them, “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.” Jesus announced a topsy turvy way of doing things – humbling oneself in order to be exalted.
Now you can probably guess the kind of people the leader of the Pharisees had invited to the meal he hosted. They were people who were his friends. They were the kinds of people who would be able to return the favor by inviting him to eat at their house. They were the kind of people who brought honor and status to his table by being there. Ironically, Jesus himself was included in that category. While the Pharisee had no use for Jesus, that didn’t change the fact that our Lord was a famous and popular teacher. So the very fact Jesus was present at the Pharisee’s supper brought honor and status to the Pharisee.
Then, just before our text, Jesus said to this Pharisee, “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.” The One who said “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted,” told the Pharisee to invite the humble; the ones who couldn’t give him anything in return. He was to do this because it is God who will reward this action on the Last Day.
In our text we learn that the mention of the Last Day prompted one of those dining there – one of the friends of the leader of the Pharisees – to say, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Now the statement was spoken by someone who assumed he was going to partake in the feast of salvation. These were the words of someone who thought he was an insider. As someone who was part of the Pharisee leader’s group, he was also someone who was opposed to Jesus.
And so Jesus told a parable. He told of a man who gave a great banquet. When everything was prepared he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” When we get an invitation, we have to decide whether we are going to go or not. Yet this is not what is happening here. In fact those receiving this invitation had already decided that they were going and had indicated this to the man. Like a RSVP in our setting, these people had already indicated that they were coming. They had been invited and had accepted the invitation. Now, in the custom of the Palestinian world, the host was sending out the second invitation – which really wasn’t an “invitation.” It was instead the notification that all was ready and that it was time to come to the meal just as they had said they would.
Instead of coming, they all made excuses about why they would not be coming. One said that he had just bought a field and needed to go see it. One said he had just bought oxen and needed to examine them. One said he had just been married. No matter what excuse they made, it did not change the fact that their refusal to come was an incredibly disrespectful affront to the host.
Now in the parable, when Jesus talks about these three who made excuses and didn’t come to the feast, he’s talking about the Pharisees. They were Israel who had been called by God as his covenant people. Now, the beginning of the end-time feast of salvation had arrived in Jesus the Christ. The critical moment of God’s plan of salvation had arrived in the person of the Savior and he was extending the invitation to receive his blessings. And how were the Pharisees reacting? They were rejecting Jesus. They refused to believe and trust in him.
But before we self-righteously condemn the Pharisees, we had better pause and note the reasons why those invited don’t come. Two of them provide excuses that deal with possessions. One gives an excuse that involves a relationship. Immediately after our text Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple … So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus warns that if we are to follow him and be his disciples; if we are going to be those who enjoy the feast of salvation, then we must put him before things; we must put him before the relationships in our life. We must fear, love and trust in him above all things. So think about it. What do you put before Jesus and his word? How do you do this as you deal with possessions and relationships? Our text calls us to recognize these things and repent. It calls us through the work of Spirit not only to recognize these things but also to make new choices that put Jesus first. We do this because in the Gospel we learn that Jesus put us first though we did not deserve it in any way.
In the parable we hear that the man was angered by the news the servant brought back. And so he said, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” The servant did this and then reported, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” 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.” Those who should have come to the banquet rejected the invitation. So the master commanded that that those in the city who had nothing to offer should be brought to the banquet. And then he said that those outside the city – those in the sticks – should be brought in.
The poor and the crippled and the blind and the lame of the countryside – you couldn’t find anyone in Palestine who had less to offer; you couldn’t find anyone less likely to be invited to a great feast in a city. And guess what? They are you and I. We are those who were outside the city – Gentiles who were not included in the covenant with Israel. We are those who are sinners – who sin and fall short of the glory of God in what we say and think and do.
The wonder of the Gospel is that God has called us to the feast of salvation. The wonder of the Gospel is that we have a welcome place at the feast because of Jesus Christ. Earlier in this chapter Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus Christ is the One who humbled himself so that we might be exalted. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. He humbled himself by taking our sins upon himself and dying for them. Yet by humbling himself for us Jesus was exalted as he rose from the dead on the third day and now as the ascended Lord he is seated at the right hand of the Father.
And as the exalted Lord he invites us to the foretaste of the feast to come. He invites us to the Sacrament of the Altar where he gives us the forgiveness he won on the cross. He gives us food for the journey by which he strengthen us in the faith as we look forward to the Last Day – the day when we will share in his resurrection and enjoy the marriage feast of the Lamb that has no end.
Our Lord invites us to his table – reminding us that “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He invites us to his table so that more and more we may able to live like him. He invites us, so that we too may invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. He invites us so that we too may share his love with those who have nothing to offer us. For when we live this life of faith we are those who really can say, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”