We are continuing in our weekly study on the stories Jesus told. We remember the power of narrative, and the way our world is impacted by stories- both fiction and non-fiction.
When we debate someone, or argue against their position, we put our guard up. By resisting them, we remove any chance for personal growth. However, when we are invited into a story, into someone’s story, we let our guard down and find that we are changed in the process.
A story in 3 parts
Today, the parable we’ll be studying comes with some back story. It’s important that we read a few verses before the story begins to see how and why Jesus chooses to give this story.
We read verses 1-14 earlier on in the service, and so now I’ll just paraphrase them for you.
Jesus at a Pharisees house
Jesus found himself at a Pharisees house. It was the Jewish Sabbath, and as per Jewish custom, there were extremely strict rules as to how one could behave for that 24 hour period.
There were 39 particular actions that an observant Jew was to refrain from on the Sabbath. For instance, they were to refrain from cooking, or tying, or cleaning, or using a hammer, or kneading bread.
A modern-day orthodox Jew mentions they refrain from turning on lights, computers or radios. They choose to not write, use the telephone, drive or ride in cars, or do the laundry.
Jesus meets a man suffering
Now, Jesus is currently observing the Sabbath, and he’s surrounded by the most rigid and strict observers of the law. It’s in this world that Jesus comes across a man suffering from Dropsy, which many scholars believe it was a disease where fluid accumulated on the tissues of the body. Probably a disease the created a great deal of suffering in the life of the one affected.
The Pharisees notice the man, and the Pharisees notice Jesus noticing the man. And it’s then that they ask, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”
Many scholars believe this situation was set up, and the man asking was a plant, to try to get Jesus in trouble.
Chances are, they’re trying to corner Jesus and possibly are trying to intimidate him.
But, in their own uncertainty, the Pharisees remain silent after asking the question. It’s in this silence that Jesus takes the man, touches him, and heals him. He then sends him on his way.
He then comes back at them by saying, “If one of you has a son, or an ox, and it falls into a well on a Sabbath, will you not immediately pull him out?”
And Jesus continues on his way to the house of the Pharisee
When he arrives to the house, he sees a group of men lounging, talking and eating. The typical way a room like this was put together was seats placed in a horseshoe shape, and with the most important at the very tip. The seating was then ordered with the most important at the front and then ran down to the least important.
There was also a reciprocating, mutual back scratching culture at these parties. If a person hoped to move up the social ladder it was important to invited important people to your parties, and then place them at high and important seats. This, then, would hopefully receive an important invitation to their next party, and hopefully you’ll be placed in a seat of importance.
So, many times, these parties weren’t filled with the people the host most enjoyed being around, and they certainly weren’t thrown because of an act of generosity. This was a means of receiving a reciprocated gift.
Jesus challenges the culture of giving to receive
Its into this culture that Jesus walked into. Chances are, he takes a look at the room and sees men vying for a more important spot, and bickering for said spot.
I like to imagine kids fighting for a better place in line as they prepare to go to recess.
It’s to this group of people who Jesus says…
“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Jesus is making friends!
Not quite ready to sit quietly, Jesus then speaks to the host of this party:
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
So what’s going on here?
In this story we see a rich man hoping to throw a party. It’s possible that he is new to the area, or maybe he is of low social rank. Perhaps he’s of high social rank and people don’t like him. No matter the reason, the man sends out invitations to a party he hopes to throw, and he only receives shallow and ridiculous excuses for why people cannot come.
We see a man saying that he must go look at some land that he just bought. But, like buying a house, it’s ridiculous to think a person would purchase something of such value and something of such expense without ever taking a look at it.
Trying out oxen
Much the same way as buying a house, it’s ridiculous to think that a person would purchase an animal, much like purchasing a car, without inspecting it and taking it for a “test drive” beforehand.
I just got married.
It seems, on the surface, this excuse is a valid one. After all, a marriage is a very big deal, and because women weren’t allowed to attend these parties, a man would be more likely to reject said invitation if it immediately followed a wedding.
Here’s where this whole thing falls apart, though.
It was customary in this culture to, when having a banquet, send people two invitations. We see that happening here in this story.
So, the way this story has unfolded, it seems as though this man had no idea he would be getting married when the first invitation was sent out.
Typically, from the time a man and wife have signed the marriage contract, and to the moment they consummate the marriage, up to 7 years can pass. Along the same lines, from the moment the marriage is consummated, the family will then throw a week-long celebration for the newly married couples.
This wasn’t a culture of shot-gun weddings at court houses! It was a seriously planned event that a man and woman would be aware of years in advance.
This would have been at the forefront of the minds of the listeners in the room with Jesus.
So all 3 excuses have shown themselves to be shallow and as a result, the host of the party is angry and extremely insulted. (as anyone would be!)
Host sends his servants to fill his party with those from the streets
It’s important to notice how the man sends his servants. He tells them, go, but don’t just find those along the main thoroughfares. Go to the highways, the side roads, the alleys, and the roads the lead away from the city.
Check every corner, every nook, and every crevice for whoever might come.
And he says implore them, plead with them to come. Do everything short of drag them here.
There are a couple of applications to this story.
A reminder to re-evaluate our priorities
Jesus kicks off this story by saying, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God.”
And chances are, by judging the characters in this story, most of the men in this room thought that they were, for sure, going to make it to that Kingdom dinner. They were the most devout, and the most important.
But, as we see, Jesus paints the picture of a people too busy, and too filled with excuses to come to the most important dinner of their lives.
They found other things more important.
For the first two people, they found possessions more important. They found the collecting of “things” to be worth more than the company of the host.
For the third, it was either a bold-faced lie that kept him away, or it was poor planning and/or absent-mindedness.
This story serves as a reminder that it is very possible for us to miss the boat. We have all been invited, but that invitation is within our power to reject. We have every chance to belong, but we also have every chance to miss out.
This is a party of ragamuffins
The host of the party, instead of begging for others to come when they have better things to do, goes out to the highways, the side roads, the back roads, the country roads and the roads to nowhere and gathers up a group of, most likely, the smelliest, foulest, and most shunned people in their town.
There was no way for the invited men to pay back the host. There would be no more parties. These invitations would not help his social standing…and if anything, when others found out, it would lower it in the eyes of the social elite around him.
But the invitations were made anyways.
This story reminds us to examine our hearts, doesn’t it? It reminds us to examine our motives, and examine the ways we look at others.
As we bring the sermon to a close today, I want to ask you 4 questions:
1. Are we using the kingdom for what we can get out of it?
Are we serving God because he helps us feel less guilty? Or are we using religion because it gives us something to control, and a measuring stick to prove our worth? Are we using our Christian faith to move us up a social ladder, or to attain a physical prize?
2. Are we using people for what we can get out of them?
Often we view our generosity to others, and our gifts to others as a way to make ourselves feel good. Our church serves monthly at “The Table,” which is where we cook a hot meal for the homeless here in Napa. But it would be very easy for us to begin to make ourselves feel special for how often we give to others.
We can turn those moments of service into proof that we are good people, and we can use that as ammo to have God give us more of what we want.
3. How can we serve others with no thought of return?
The hardest part of service is to think about giving with no thought of return.
When someone asks us for something, and we give it to them, our natural instinct is to begin to think about how we’re going to benefit from this. Maybe we hope someone else will find out. Maybe we hope that person will eventually be able to pay us back, or better yet, grant us a favor when it benefits us at a later time.
But we, more often than we want to admit, give out of hope that it will be reciprocated.
But that sort of giving is not the right kind of giving is it? The ultimate example of generosity was Christ on the cross, and if we take a look at that moment in history, who can ever repay him for what he gave to us?
Christ was the host, and he invited each of us to participate in a dinner that is far beyond our social standing, and it’s a dinner we could never hope to repay him for.
4. What does a church look like who does this?
And as a church, we’re called to be that sort of example, and that sort of generous community.
I want to carry on the message from last week, and ask you the same question.
How can we be generous people? How can we, as a church, serve for the sake of serving?