Subject: Who will eat at the party God is throwing?
Complement: The surprising people who respond to his invitation.
Big Idea: God is throwing a party and everyone is invited, but the people who respond aren’t the people we’d expect.
If you ask me what my major was in college, I could tell you truthfully that I majored in awkwardness. In fact, I met my wife at an awkward Halloween party. Ask me for details sometime.
I’m not alone. Many of you have experienced major awkwardness in your lives as well. Some of you still are! Buzzfeed has listed some common awkward social situations, and they’ve even given each situation an awkward score:
- The person wearing the same clothes as you at a party — 45% awkward
- The person who traps you for a chat that you don’t want to have — 66% awkward
- Attempting a handshake, hug, or kiss, and having the other person choose something different — 86% awkward
- Saying goodbye and then leaving in the same direction — 53% awkward
- Having to introduce someone when you can’t remember their name — 97% awkward
Everyone can relate to these, right? There’s nothing quite so cringe-inducing as a really awkward situation.
You may have missed it as we read today’s passage, but what we have in front of us is Jesus in the middle of a very awkward situation of his own making. You could legitimately call this story “Jesus the awkward dinner guest” — but the awkwardness is for a purpose.
Let me walk you through the story and look at the layers of awkwardness.
One — Jesus is invited to the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, and they’re watching him carefully. That’s the first level of awkwardness. You know what it’s like when you’re invited into a hostile situation — the Pharisees did not like Jesus — and they are watching you, hoping that you mess up so that they can jump on you.
Two — Then Jesus heals a man who has dropsy, or what we’d call edema today. It’s the accumulation of excess fluids throughout the body. I love how Charlie Boyd captures the awkwardness of this situation:
Folks, may I have your attention for a minute please? Old Waldo here has a real bad back—hurts him worse than a toothache. So if it’s okay with you all, I’m just going to plop him up here on the table and do a little healing on him? … Uh, Mrs. Smithenheimer, would you be so kind as to move the roast down there to the other end? Waldo’s a pretty big boy, you know. There…up you go Waldo. Just lay back—careful now—don’t get your shoelaces in the mashed potatoes.
Jesus heals this man in the middle of the meal and sends him on his way, and does this on the Sabbath, which was another source of tension. This party was getting intense.
Three — But then Jesus makes it even more awkward. He notices how people chose positions of honor, and then gives an extended speech telling off the guests. He tells them off for picking the best spots, and tells them instead to choose the lowest places instead.
Four — When he’s done insulting the guests, he turns his sights on the host. He tells the host to stop inviting those who can reciprocate, and tells him to invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind instead. By now, everyone had been deliberately insulted by Jesus at this party. This was about 96% awkward. But we’re not done yet. There’s one more level of awkwardness to come.
Five — You know how people say things to try to break the awkwardness? Someone at the dinner party tried to do this. I can imagine everyone sitting there in stunned silence. What do you say when Jesus has just ripped everybody apart at the dinner party? He makes a valiant but failed attempt to save the situation. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” I can almost hear him adding, “Could you please pass the relish?” He’s trying to defuse an awkward situation. It doesn’t work, though. It just sets Jesus off on another story that ramps up the awkwardness even more!
What am I trying to tell you here? As Jesus is about to launch into a story that has important lessons for all of us, we’re meant to sense that Jesus is upending the way we normally think and act. Jesus isn’t a socially insensitive party guest. We’re meant to see that the Kingdom of Heaven is radically different than the way that we operate, so much so that we tend to see it as a little inappropriate, a little bit socially awkward. The way that God operates is so contrary to the way that we think that we tend to see it as weird, even a little bit embarrassing. We don’t know how to react. It was true in Jesus’ day, and it’s true for us today. The Kingdom of God is different from how we think and act, and that includes those of us who are religious people too.
At this critical moment of awkwardness, of the Kingdom clashing with the way we normally think and act, Jesus tells us a parable. It’s important that we look at it. A third of Jesus’ teachings were in the form of parables. The parables give us glimpses into the way that God operates, which is very different from the way that we operate. If we pay attention, these parables will upend the way we normally think and turn our world upside-down.
There are three sets of characters involved in this parable, and each of the parties has something to teach us. So let’s look at the parable that Jesus told at the height of this awkwardness at this dinner party, to see what we learn about God and about ourselves.
God is throwing a lavish party.
The first party we need to look at is found in verses 16 and 17, and this party tells us something about God. Read what Jesus says in verses 16-17:
But he said to him, “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.’ (Luke 14:16-17)
Jesus is responding to the guy who just tried to save an awkward situation by saying, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” and he does so by teaching us something about God. Here’s what he teaches us: God is throwing a party, and he is inviting many. Later on in this story, we’re going to see just how many people are invited to the party that God is throwing.
I don’t know what picture you have in your mind when you think of God. I find that many of us are likely to think of God as stern and serious. But Jesus compares God to a man who is about to throw a lavish party, a banquet with great food and plenty of libations. In fact, Jesus is giving us a glimpse of the party that God will one day throw, to which we’re all invited.
Throughout Scripture, God is pictured as a someone who loves to throw parties, who loves to delight us with good food. God is a party-loving, party-throwing God. It’s pretty stunning. David Gooding says:
The metaphor of feasting, as distinct from merely eating a meal assures us that no true potential appetite, desire, or longing given us by God will prove to have been a deception, but all will be granted their richest and most sublime fulfillment.
That’s God. He’s planning a party, and we’re invited. He won’t just give us enough to sustain us. It’s going to be lavish. A good banquet is more than just good food. A good party fills your belly and fills your soul as well. It satisfies your hungers, including the hunger of your soul. A good party brings joy. God loves to throw parties for his people.
You see this all throughout the Bible. In Deuteronomy 14, God told his people to take 10% of their money and hold a giant party every year to which everyone was invited. “Spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household” (Deuteronomy 14:26). Imagine spending 10% of our gross national product on an annual party. That would be a party! That’s a window into what God’s Kingdom is like.
God continues this theme throughout Scripture. Psalm 23 says:
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Isaiah 25 says:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
Isaiah 55 says:
Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
The first miracle we read about in the Gospel of John is Jesus turning water into wine. That’s no accident. Miracles aren’t just tricks; they are signs that point us to what the Kingdom of God is like. In Jesus’ first miracle, he turned a mediocre party into a great party.
This isn’t an isolated theme. This is such an important theme in Scripture that pastor and author Tim Chester points out that the first act of rebellion against God was one of rebellion. But then he says:
Against this backdrop of food-gone-wrong, God promises a feast. Again and again in the Bible salvation is pictured as a feast with God. When God leads the Israelites out of Egypt, the leaders of the people are invited up to Mount Sinai to eat and drink with God (Exodus 24:9–11). The rescue from slavery in Egypt – the defining act of Israelite identity – is itself commemorated in a meal, the meal of Passover. At the high point of Israelite history, in the reign of Solomon, we are told ‘the people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy’ (1 Kings 4:20). Even when things begin to unravel, God promises another meal on a mountain, ‘a feast of rich food for all people’ (Isaiah 25:6–8). On this occasion death itself will be on the menu and God will swallow it up. This is an eternal feast that no one need ever leave. Jesus provides a foretaste of this feast when he feeds the five thousand. Here is a feast which need never end. Indeed there’s more food at the end than there was at the beginning. It’s a pointer to the fulfillment of God’s promise: that one day we will feast forever in his presence.
This is the first thing we see. God is planning a celebration at the end of the age, and it will be lavish. We are invited. God’s invitation is to a party, and we are all invited. The party God is talking about is not now. It is the Great Banquet that will take place when Jesus returns at the end of the age, and when he sets up his Kingdom on this earth. But we’re supposed to live now like the Kingdom’s come. Our lives should reflect what the Kingdom is like.
So far, so good. We learn an important lesson about God. But there are two other sets of characters in this parable. Let’s look at them. Let’s learn what this parable says about us. It tells us two things.
Not everyone you’d expect to participate in the party will be included.
When you throw a party, what kind of person do you think will show up? I’ve been around a long time now, and I’ve noticed that when teenage girls throw a party, teenage girls show up. When 8-year-old boys throw a party, 8-year-old boys show up. When board-gamers throw a party, really smart people show up.
Who shows up when God throws a party? You would think that it would be the religious people, the preachers, pastors, and church members. But that’s not what happens. Listen to what Jesus says in this story:
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.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ (Luke 14:17-20)
Back then, things worked a little differently. It was the custom back then to send out invitations, and then count those who accepted the invitations and prepare a party based on the number who had RSVPed saying, “I’m coming.” So all the people we read about in this passage had said that they were coming. They’ve all been invited to the party, and they’ve all said that they’re coming. But back then a second invitation went out when the party was ready. The servant would go out and tell them, “Hey, the party is ready. Come and join us!” And when that happened, all those who had said they were coming gave the lamest of excuses. We read them, and they sound reasonable, but they really aren’t.
First excuse — If you’ve bought a field, you’ve already inspected it. The trees, the paths, the water levels, the stone walls — you would know about all of that before you bought the property. It’s like saying, “Hey, I just bought some land in Florida, and I need to go check it out.” It’s an obvious lie, and an insult to the party host.
Second excuse — The same with the five yoke of oxen. It’s like saying, “Hey, I’ve just just bought this used car over the phone, and now I’m you going to the used car lot to find out what kind it is, how old it is, and whether or not it will start.” So again, this is an excuse, and it’s an insult.
Third excuse — The last excuse is just as bad, maybe even worse. “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” Being newly married really wouldn’t preclude someone from attending a party. Besides, if you were going to get married and didn’t want to come, you wouldn’t have accepted the first invitation.
Craig Blomberg, a leading scholar on the parables, says:
What all three share is an extraordinary lameness. They are meant to strike the hearer as ridiculous and to point out the absurdity of any excuse for rejecting God’s call into his kingdom. At the level of the story the rejections are just barely conceivable.
That’s just the point that Jesus is making. When God throws a party, what kind of lame excuse are you going to come up with that keeps you away? To accept the invitation, and then insult God by prioritizing stuff or people, is absurd. It would be like being offered tickets to the front row of the World Series, or a box seat to the Four Tenors, and saying you could go, but then that day saying, “Oh, man, I’m really sorry, but I need to wash my hair.” A preoccupation with stuff that really doesn’t matter keeps them away from the party, and Jesus is telling us that this is what can happen to us too.
Kent Hughes puts it like this:
Jesus offers the kingdom, a perpetual feast of peace, a feast of help, guidance, friendship, rest, victory over self, control of passions, supremacy over circumstances—a feast of joy, tranquillity, deathlessness, Heaven opened, immeasurable hope—salvation. Yet, people turn their backs on this feast, preferring a visit with their possessions and affections.
What do you think about this? Is it happening with you?
Remember: Jesus tells this story at the dinner table full of religious people. The point is clear. Jesus is telling the religious that they are missing out on God’s party. They are choosing to miss out. Some of the people who go to church regularly, who even lead churches, are missing out on the party.
God is throwing a party and everyone is invited, but the people who respond aren’t the people we’d expect. A lot of those who are invited to the party aren’t going to be there, not because they weren’t invited, but because they excluded themselves. According to Jesus, some of the people we think will be there, won’t be. God has invited us to his place for dinner.
What excuse will you use to get out of it?
So we’ve seen two of the three sets of characters so far: God, who loves to throw parties, and religious people, who are in danger of missing out on the party altogether. There’s one more set of people to look at in this passage, and we learn something important from them.
God is lavish in his invitation to the party, and unexpected people are going to make it in.
Look what the party host does when the invited guests don’t show up:
So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And 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.’” (Luke 14:21-24)
The host has invited guests, and he’s been publicly snubbed. His standing in the community has plummeted. So the host does something different. He no longer invites the respectable people of the community, the people who can pay him back. He invites those who would never make anybody’s party list. He invites those who could never pay him back. “In the reign of God, the outcast will no longer be cast out” (David Garland). One commentator says that “this householder will include anyone among his table guests—that is, no one is too sullied, too wretched, to be counted as a friend at table” (Joel Green).
I can picture Jesus looking his guests in the eye when he finishes in verse 24: “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (Luke 14:24). His dinner guests — religious people — are excluding themselves from the party that God is throwing, and are doomed for judgment, but the party is going on, and the most unexpected people are going to attend.
What does all of this mean? God is throwing a party and everyone is invited, but the people who respond aren’t the people we’d expect.
“Hear me,” Jesus says, “God isn’t like you think he is. God loves parties, and he loves it when everyone’s invited. Right now the Messiah, God’s servant, is sitting right in front of you, sending out the Father’s second invitation. Come! The party is about to begin.”
If we were having this dinner with Jesus, here’s what I think he would say to us.
First — Don’t be one of those who respond to the first invitation and then miss out on the party. What in your life is keeping you from God’s invitation? What excuses are you giving God for why you’re not available? What a tragedy to be invited to the party that God is throwing and to miss out for no reason. Jesus tells us that some people we think will be at the Great Banquet won’t be. Don’t be one of those people.
Second — I think Jesus is telling us to be a reflection of his Kingdom. When people come in here for the first time, I want them to be able to say, “I felt welcome!” no matter who they are. I want them to get a sense that we are a contagious community of grace, a safe place for messy people, a little bit of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Let’s invite people. Let’s go out of our way to make them feel welcome when they show up. This parable is about the radical and lavish hospitality of God, and I pray that this church will also be known for its radical and lavish hospitality to anyone. Think of the last person you would ever expect to attend God’s party. Think about whatever label you’d slap on them. They’re invited too, so go and invite them.
Third — You’re on the guest list. No matter what you’ve done, or what you haven’t done, no matter how many times you have failed and messed up, no matter what label someone has slapped on you, you are invited to God’s party. “Grace means there’s no such thing as ‘unworthy.’ Grace means you’re invited to the party no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done” (Charlie Boyd). Jesus died for your sins so that you could be forgiven, and there’s an invitation with your name on it.
Jesus wants you to know that all of you are invited, not because you deserve it, but because God loves you, and has graciously opened up his home to you. But the invitation is not just for you. It’s for anyone — anyone! — who wants to come, and who can’t repay.
Won’t you come?