R.S.V.P. You have seen it many times on invitations. Perhaps you have written it yourself. But do you know what it means? And do you know what it means?
R.S.V.P. is an abbreviation for a phrase from a foreign language. It’s a little unusual because many of the examples we use are from Latin. So, “A.D.” stands for the phrase “Anno Domini” – “in the year of the Lord,” and “i.e.” stands for “id est” – “that is.” However R.S.V.P. stands for the French phrase that means “respond if you please,” or, “please reply.”
There was a time among the European elite when the French language was seen as being more refined. The use of a French phrase was a sign of class. Eventually the abbreviation of the phrase entered into more common usage among English language speakers. In the middle of the nineteenth century it showed up in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Now you may have received invitations that say, “R.S.V.P. please.” This reflects the fact that R.S.V.P. has sometimes come to be understood as a request to respond if you are going to come to an event. But in fact, “R.S.V.P. please” is like saying, “Please reply, please.” In truth, R.S.V.P. is a request to reply to the invitation no matter whether the intention is to attend or not.
In our Gospel lesson today we hear about a man who is giving a great banquet. When the meal was ready and the time for the banquet arrived, he sent a servant to announce this fact to people who had been invited. We hear about how they make excuses as to why they won’t be able to come. Yet as we consider the parable, we need to recognize that in its first century setting, these people had already responded to an R.S.V.P., and they had indicated that they were coming to the banquet.
Our text occurs on a Sabbath when Jesus went to eat at the home of ruler of the Pharisees. Now at this point in Luke’s Gospel, we know that when Jesus eats with Pharisees on the Sabbath there are going to be problems. And sure enough, Luke tells us that the Pharisees were watching Jesus closely.
First Jesus healed a man in their midst and silenced the Pharisees with a question about whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not. Then when Jesus noticed how everyone at the meal was seeking to get the best place at the table, he told the guests that in fact they should take the lowest place so that then they would have the honor of being told to move up. Jesus said to them, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Finally, our Lord said to the Pharisee who had invited them, “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 meal was a tense one as Jesus corrected everyone there. But here was something that could be affirmed. So we learn in our text that when one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Of course, the man who said this assumed that he was included in that group who would enjoy God’s end time salvation. So Jesus told a parable.
It’s a parable you know well. It may even call to mind the song “I cannot come to the banquet.” A man hosts a great banquet and when it is prepared he sends out his servant to announce to those who had been invited: “Come, for everything is now ready.” Yet one by one, people say they aren’t coming: one has bought a field and needs to go see it; another bought oxen and needs to examine them; another has married a wife and so is unavailable.
To us these may sound like reasonable excuses. Yet there are two things to recognize. First, this is not the initial invitation. These people have been invited in the past and they have accepted. They have said they are going to come. This is the announcement that now is the time when the meal is ready. And second, all of the excuses are all obviously bogus. No one bought land or farm animals sight unseen in the first century, just as no one would do so today. A wedding would not be happening at the same time because everyone would be going to only one event, and being recently married didn’t prevent a person from attending a banquet.
The excuses are in fact nothing more than a rejection of the one hosting the banquet. Jesus tells the parable to the leader of the Pharisees and his friends because this is what they are doing. They are rejecting Jesus, and so they are rejecting God’s salvation in their midst. They are Jews, God’s covenant people. More than that, they claim to be pious and faithful Jews. And yet they are refusing to believe in Jesus, the One who brings the kingdom of God – the reign of God – into their midst.
Sitting here today, you are like the ones in the parable who have been invited. You have been baptized. You have become part of Christ’s Body, the Church. The Spirit has given you rebirth and through his work you now believe. You’ve accepted the invitation and said that you’ll be there.
The excuses in the parable may be bogus, but they do point us to things that can prevent us from attending the banquet; things that can prevent us from sharing in God’s end time salvation because they are sin. The man says he needs to look at the land he has bought. The possessions and things of this world become a snare – they compete with God for our attention and usurp Him as they become the source of our security and well being. The man says he needs to examine the oxen he has bought for his farm. Our work – our career – becomes the thing we focus upon; the thing to which we look for our sense self-worth and value.
And then there is the man who says he has married. In the very next verse after our text we read: “Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘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.’” Truly, there are few things that make people more willing to ignore God’s Word and will than their family, as they attempt to excuse or justify the behavior of loved ones.
In the parable the servant reported to the master what had happened. Angered he said, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Now if you have been listening closely, you’ll notice that the “poor and crippled and blind and lame” are the same people Jesus had just told the host of the meal that he should invite – the kind of people who can’t do anything in return. Jesus is saying that the salvation he brings may be rejected by people like he Pharisees, but God’s grace is not limited by this. Instead it is a salvation this is offered to all who descend from Israel – even those who seem like they have no worth.
Then the servant reported: “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” And so 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.” There was still room, so the master sent the servant outside the city to seek others for the banquet.
And that’s why you are here. Those outside the city are the Gentiles – the people first century Jews found to be the most unexpected guests at God’s end time feast of salvation. Though a sinner; though a Gentile, God chose to save you. It’s unmerited. It’s undeserved. It’s not something that was possible for you. And this is why it is so precious and amazing.
Obedient to the Father’s will, Jesus Christ offered himself as the sacrifice for sin in your place. He received the punishment you deserved, so that you can now be righteous in God’s eyes through him. You have been justified. You are righteous now, and through faith in Christ you know that will have this status on the Last Day.
Because you have this status; in order keep you in this status, Jesus invites you now to his banquet. He invites you to the foretaste of the feast to come where he uses bread and wine to give you his true body and blood, given and shed for you. Here he gives you forgiveness. Here he nourishes faith, so that you may continue to live as a justified Christian, ready for the Last Day.
He does this for you and your salvation. And he does this for you for the sake of others. Jesus humbled himself in death on the cross and served you, so that you can now be exalted as the forgiven child of God. He did it so that you can now be his instrument in serving others.
You don’t have to look around to find where you are to serve. You don’t have to wonder about what your purpose is. God has already given it to you. He did it when he made you a father or mother; a son or daughter; a member of this congregation; an employer or an employee. In those vocations – those callings – God uses you to care and provide for others. Christ’s sacrificial love for you now sets you in motion to act in love towards those God has placed around you.
Jesus Christ has invited you to his banquet. He has invited you to receive the foretaste of the feast to come in the Sacrament of the Altar. He has invited you to the marriage feast of the lamb that will have no end on the Last Day. And it is in those same vocations that Christ uses you to invite others.
In the coming months we will have opportunity to reflect upon how those vocations are the settings where you already know people who do not believe in Jesus Christ as Savior or no longer are connected to his Church. There will be opportunities to reflect intentionally on relationships that exist in those settings – people we know – and how we can engage them in conversation that leads to talking about Jesus and inviting them to church.
In our text, Jesus speaks with those who had been invited, but now refused to come to the banquet. They refused to believe in Jesus and the saving reign of God was present in him. Though you were like those outside the city, you have now been invited. More than that, you already take your place at the foretaste of the feast to come. You have already received forgiveness and salvation as you look for Jesus’ return. Because of this you are able to say in truth, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”