This past weekend I was at my brother’s house in Indiana to celebrate my nephew’s high school graduation. Like the families of many high school graduates, my brother and his wife put on an open house to celebrate the event. And like other families who have such an event, they put effort into getting things ready.
They had sent out invitations. They had spruced up the landscaping and repainted the railing of the porch so that the exterior of the house looked great. They put up graduation decorations. They smoked a pig and prepared all kinds of food. They had plenty of beverages in coolers – and note I use the plural – since there was a cooler with soda and water, and another cooler with beer. This is a Lutheran family, after all. They had set up a tent outside with tables and chairs. They had done everything needed in order to make it a wonderful event.
It was a great day attended by many people who stopped by to wish my nephew congratulations and best wishes as he prepares to attend college in the fall. However, what would it have been like if instead, nobody had showed up? Certainly, it’s not possible for everyone who is invited to attend. Scheduling conflicts can always get in the way. But how would they have felt if absolutely no one came to the celebration? Or worse yet, what if all the people who had said they would be there, decided to stay away?
That is the scenario that Jesus describes in the parable found in our Gospel lesson this morning. In the parable, our Lord teaches us how we should view ourselves. He teaches us about the gracious love that we have received in him. And he warns us that we cannot take this for granted.
Our text this morning takes place in a setting of tension and conflict. The first verse of this chapters says, “One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.” Now by the time we reach this point in Luke’s Gospel, we know that the Pharisees have been attacking Jesus. These conflicts have involved meals. They have also involved matters about the Sabbath. So when Jesus goes to the house of a ruler of the Pharisees for a meal on the Sabbath, you know that there are going to be problems.
First Jesus silences the Pharisees by raising the question about whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, and then he heals a man who is there. Next our Lord notices how everyone is trying to get the best positions at the table – those that afford the most honor. But as the One who has brought the reign of God, Jesus teaches a very different way – a way of humility. He tells those at the meal to take the lowest spot, so that then the host may ask them to move up. He explains this by saying, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Finally, after talking about humility to the guests, he then does so towards the host. He tells him not to invite family or rich neighbors who can be expected to reciprocate with invitations. 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.” Our Lord teaches humility to the host. He teaches the gracious mercy of the kingdom of God, and promises that it is God who will take care of things on the Last Day.
At the beginning of our text, this reference to the resurrection of the Last Day prompts one of those attending the meal to say, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Now it is obvious that this individual believes that he will be in that number. He assumes that he will take part in the feast of salvation.
This assumption is the very thing Jesus takes up in the parable. He says, “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.’”
However, each of the those who had been invited began to make excuses. One said that he had bought a field and needed to go and look at it. Another said that he had bought five yoke of oxen, and needed to go examine them. Yet another said that he had married a wife, and so he could not come.
In order to understand what is really happening here, we need to recognize two factors from the first century Palestinian setting. First, the announcement by the servant is actually the second invitation. All of those whom he goes to see have already been invited to the banquet, and they have already accepted the invitation. They have said they will be there. They know the day when the banquet is to take place and the general timing. The announcement by the servant is the signal that now indeed, all is ready and it is time for the banquet to start.
Second, all of these excuses are obviously bogus – they are lies. No one bought land or animals without examining them carefully beforehand. A wedding was a major event that would never be scheduled at the same time as a great banquet for which the invitation had been accepted. Instead, each of these individuals was choosing to reject the host.
We learn that when the master of the house heard this, he was angry. He says at the very end of our text, “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” With these words, Jesus is describing the Pharisees who are there at the meal with him. They are rejecting Jesus because he is not the Messiah they expect or want. Yet because Jesus - the incarnate Son of God - is the presence of God’s reign, they are rejecting the salvation he brings.
Rebuffed by those who had been invited, the master did something unusual – unusual at least if you are doing things in the expected ways of the world. He told the servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” The master told the servant to bring in people you would not normally invite to a feast – the very people Jesus had just told the host that he should invite.
Yet even when this had been done, the servant reported that there was still room at the banquet. 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.” The master sent the servant outside the city into the hinterland to bring in more people so that the banquet would be full.
Those who end up attending the banquet are the unworthy and the unwanted. They are the poor and crippled and blind and lame. They are the ones who rank even lower than that – the rural people who don’t even live in the city. This is a description of you. There is no reason that God should want you at the great banquet – the feast of salvation. You are unworthy. You are sinners who reject God’s will in every possible way. You place God second all the time because there are things you love more. You place yourself first and your neighbor second, because you are not about to put your neighbor’s needs before your own.
You are the spiritually poor and crippled and blind and lame. And actually, in the setting of the parable you don’t even rate there, for those in the city are the Jews. Almost all of you are Gentiles – you are the ones at the highways and the hedges. You are the ones outside the city – the ones who were never part of God’s people in the first place.
But our Lord’s parable teaches us about the gracious love of God that we have received in Jesus Christ. We were not worthy of being invited to the feast of salvation. Yet in his love, God sent his Son to win salvation because we are not worthy. He sent his Son because we are sinners.
The placement of our text in Luke’s Gospel reveals this truth. At the end of chapter nine we read, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Our text occurs during Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. Just before he began his journey, in that same chapter our Lord said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Jesus Christ journeys to Jerusalem because you are a sinner – because you are not worthy. Though without sin, he goes to be numbered with the transgressors. He goes to offer himself on the cross as the sacrifice for your sin. Our Lord died in the humiliation of the cross in order to give us forgiveness.
Just before the parable, Jesus has said in this chapter, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Our Lord humbled himself to the point of death – even death on a cross – for us. But then, God exalted him. First, the Father raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. Through Christ he defeated death. And then God exalted Jesus as he ascended forty days after Easter and was seated at the right hand of God. It is as the exalted Lord and Christ that Jesus poured forth the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Because of our Lord’s death and resurrection, we now have a place in the feast of salvation. But the parable this morning also gives us a warning. It was prompted by someone at the table who said: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” He assumed he was included. Yet the first portion of the parable is all about how those who were invited excluded themselves by rejecting the invitation.
Jesus Christ has called you to faith through baptism the work of his Spirit. But the life of faith is not the same thing as simply having your name on a church roster. It is something that requires us to continue to confess our sin. It is a life in which we must continue to receive our Lord’s gifts of the Means of Grace. Only in this way can we be sustained as the forgiven people of God who are ready to confess Christ to the world in word and deed.
Immediately 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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.’” Our Lord says that we must count the cost, for if we are faithful to him and his Word, there will be a cost.
It’s the month of June, so unless you are color blind, you are seeing the celebration of sin all around us in rainbow colors. Why does our whole culture embrace this movement, when only perhaps a little more than two percent of the population is homosexual? In part it is because most people wish to support the idea that people can use sex however they want. They don’t want deny to others that which they cherish in their own lives.
In this world, to confess and live God’s will for sexuality and marriage will come at a cost. Most likely it will be an escalating one as ever increasing social and institutional pressures are brought to bear. But in Christ, God has called you out of the world to be his people – people who live according to his holy will and who speak this truth.
To do this we need nourishment and strength. And so this morning, I am the servant who is sent to say: “Come, for everything is now ready.” I invite you to the banquet – the Sacrament of the Altar where Jesus gives us his true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Here he gives you food for the new man so that you can live as his people in this world. We live in the faith as we look for his return and the feast of salvation that has no end.