About two years ago a video appeared on the internet that made me laugh out loud in my office. In fact, I laughed so hard that I was glad no one else was in the building.
The video was part of an advertising campaign for the drink Pepsi Max and it featured the NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon. Gordon is a four time Sprint Cup champion, and in the mid-1990’s the “rainbow warrior” dominated stock car racing.
In the video clip Gordan wears a disguise and goes to a car dealership. He pretends to be a very timid individual who knows nothing whatsoever about cars as he wear a hidden camera. The accommodating car salesman encourages him to take a test drive in a sporty car.
However, once they get in the car and the test drive begins, the car sales man has his world rocked as Gordon drives the car in an apparently reckless fashion as they go flying through the area. And the thing that had me almost falling of my seat is the reaction by the salesman as he hangs on for dear life and begs Gordon to slow down. Where a few moments ago he was encouraging and instructive, now he is scared to death at the hands of this driver as he becomes more upset by the moment.
Normally, test drives are not meant to scare the car salesman in a prank. Instead, we go on test drives because an automobile is a very large purchase, and we want to make sure that we are getting something we like. We try it out to see what we think. This is simply what we do. We would find it very odd if someone said that they had purchased a car sight unseen without ever even driving that kind of car. In fact, we might have trouble believing the claim.
In the Gospel lesson today Jesus tells a parable about man who gave a great banquet and when it was ready he sent out his servant to tell those invited to come. However people refuse to come, and they all have an excuse. One man says that he has purchased five yoke of oxen and that he is now going to examine them. Yet Jesus’ listeners would have known that no one made a very large investment like this without seeing the animals first and checking out how they worked. It would be like buying a car without ever seeing and driving it. It is rather obviously a lie – or at least a great exaggeration that is being used as an excuse not to come to the banquet.
The first verse of this chapter provides us with the setting in which Jesus tells this parable. We hear, “One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.” Now by this point in Luke’s Gospel we understand that when Jesus and the Pharisees get together for a meal on the Sabbath, there is going to be tension. And in fact there is as Jesus heals a man in their midst – something that contradicts the Pharisees’ ideas about working on the Sabbath. Then Jesus instructs those who are present to take lowest and least honored seat rather than the highest – the opposite of what they are doing. Next he tells the host that he shouldn’t invite people who are of equal standing and will be able to reciprocate. Instead, Jesus says, “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 reference by Jesus to the Last Day prompts a response that is the first verse in our text. We learn, “When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’” The assumption of this individual was that he – and those eating with him – were all going to be in this group. It was a statement of self-assurance about his spiritual standing.
And so Jesus tells the parable. The basic story is clear enough. A man makes a great feast and when it is ready he sends out his servant to call those invited to come to the feast. However, things don’t go as planned. Each person has an excuse. One person says that he just bought a field and he must go look at it. Another says he has just bought five yoke of oxen and now he needs to go examine them. Another says that he has married a wife and so he cannot come.
What all of these excuses have in common is that they are obviously just excuses – they are lies or half truths meant to get the person out of coming to the banquet. Naturally this is a bad thing in itself. But it becomes even worse when we consider the practice of the first century Palestinian world. Here, a person holding a banquet extended invitations to people. The number of people who accepted helped the individual know how much food to prepare. The point is that all of these people had already committed to come to the banquet. What we hear about in our text is actually the second invitation – it was the expected announcement that the banquet was ready and that it was now time to go to the person’s house.
The master of the house was angered buy this – of course he was! Everyone had RSVP’ed and then no one showed. So he said to the servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ So the servant said, ‘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. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
The master sent the servant out into the city and had him bring in the undesirables – the people who normally didn’t get invited to these kinds of meals. And then when there was still room, he sent the servant out into the countryside – into the “sticks” – to invite those who were less desirable still.
This morning’s text is a warning and an invitation. It threatens and it encourages. In the parable, the people who refused to come are the Pharisees with whom Jesus is dining. They think they have things all figured out. They are secure and unconcerned about their spiritual status. They are going to do things their way – and therefore they are rejecting Jesus, the One in whom the saving reign of God has arrived.
It’s not hard to be like the Pharisees. In fact people do it all the time. It’s easy to believe that because I am a member of a Lutheran church everything is taken care of. Notice that I only said “a member” – a name on a church roster. I didn’t say anything about actually coming to church to receive the Means of Grace. I didn’t say anything about actually coming to Bible class so that God’s called servant can teach me more about Christ’s Word. I didn’t say anything about actually seeking to struggle against sin and to live a life of love outside these walls. That’s the temptation – to define the Christian life on your own terms. And if that’s what you want to do, the world will be right there cheering you on. It will join you in railing against “rigid” and “judgmental” churches and pastors.
Yet we need to be clear what this text is saying. The banquet here clearly stands for the feast of salvation. It turns out that doing things your own way actually rejects God’s salvation. It leaves you on the outside with all of the terrible consequences this entails.
Yet if that is the threat of this text – the Law – there is also a tremendous invitation. There is a remarkable statement of Gospel. The master sends the servant to bring in the “the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” He brings in the unworthy to the banquet. And I haven’t even mentioned you yet! For you see in the parable these are the Jews of Jesus day that were rejected by the Pharisees as spiritually unworthy. You are the people in the sticks – the people who were lower than unworthy. The master’s statement about those in the “the highways and hedges” describes the Gentiles. It describes those not originally included in God’s covenant. It describes you.
Jesus Christ speaks the parable as the One in whom God’s saving reign entered into the world. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells this parable during his final journey to Jerusalem. He speaks it as he is on his way to be crucified – to be numbered with transgressors in your place. Anointed by the Spirit at his baptism, this is the mission that he has come to accomplish.
On Good Friday he did. And then his saving work continued as he rose from the dead and defeated death. He began the resurrection which will be yours on the Last Day. He carried out this saving work for you – for you the spiritually poor and crippled and blind and lame. He did it for you, the ones who were far off and not God’s people.
Yet by the work of the Sprit in water and the word he has made you worthy. He has given you his worthiness – his righteousness. He has given you a new status as God’s people – the Israel of God – that is Jew and Gentile. He has given you forgiveness and promised that salvation is yours.
And to sustain you in this faith – to assure you that you will share in the feast of salvation that has no end – he invites you to come to his Sacrament. He invites you to come to his table to receive his true body and blood by which he gives you forgiveness and keeps you worthy of eternal life with God. It is not something you deserve. It is not something you can earn. It is not something that you can take for granted. Instead it is something that is received each Lord’s Day as we continue to await eagerly for the Last Day.