Lord God, the unfailing helper and guide of those whom you nurture in your steadfast fear and love: Keep us, we pray, under the protection of your good providence, and give us a continual reverence and love for your holy
Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Gospel reading from Holy Scripture
Luke 14 : 15 - 24
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man 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 am 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 make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
GRACE AND INGRATITUDE
A Parable of Lame Excuses
The man at the table where Jesus was dining came out with one of those statements that evidence trite religion and false piety, the kind of silly sentiment that is so disappointing when it follows a matter of great seriousness. The reference to the blessing of the kingdom falls into the category of religious cliche that dampens the importance of acute and weighty insight often prevalent, for example, in student questioning following a profound address from an eminent and godly specialist in his professional field.
Quiet and contemplative departure is the best conclusion to a communication of superior quality. Those who try to prove themselves among their peers in public can deflate a carefully cultivated mood of elevated awareness. The spell is broken. We are not permitted to dwell for a while in the charm of the mystery of that which has been imparted.
The table talk of the Lord Jesus was reduced to mind-numbing mundaneness by the guest who wrongly estimated himself as a fount of wisdom quite able to fittingly sum up the thought of the Savior. We revere Jesus’ word with due deliberation that blocks out cheap familiarity. The fellow-diner’s saying is comparable to that of the woman in the crowd who cried out, after a very solemn and terrifying discourse delivered by Jesus, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you” (Luke 11:27). This is an expression of unwarranted sentimentality at the conclusion of a dire warning. Jesus countered it with verbal realism of the most serious kind, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28). Folk are always tempted to tame the tongue of Messiah to the level of conventional twitter.
As it happens, unregenerate human nature has no aspiration toward the kingdom of God (John 3:3). It is simply a high-sounding phrase until the event of new birth and spiritual understanding. Those not born from above are averse to divine realities. Their entire concentration is upon this earthly life, even given their highest ideals along with their material desires. This universal tendency is succinctly illustrated in the parable of the great banquet. Man has no appetite for God and his ways. The allure and joy of heaven is proffered to mankind in terms of a rich and satiating feast of the most generous, enjoyable and convivial kind. But the appetite among the self-satisfied and contented is not there.
The excuses for absence are unpardonable in terms of social convention in Jesus’ time. The guests were issued an invitation well before it was intended that they should come. The splendid occasion for which they were specially selected for privilege and celebration would take time for planning and preparation. Its lavishness would be stunning and the requirements for the guests carefully calculated and supplies sufficiently available. Organization would be of careful exactitude - nothing overlooked or amiss. When the day of completion was at last predictable the guests would receive notice of readiness and their commitment to be present gratefully acknowledged by host and household upon arrival. It would be absolutely shocking to receive refusals at this rude juncture. But the invitations are not prized by the recipients and the catalogue of cancellations is patently untrue and insulting.
Three examples are cited for non-attendance. The first ingrate mentions a field he has just bought and he must examine it. But would anyone purchase a property without first inspecting it? No way! The transaction would require careful preparation for assessment of suitability and arrangement of finance. The man lies and even blatantly disregards the preparatory arrangements effected by the host that he has deceived.
The second ungrateful individual has just bought five yoke of oxen and must “try them out”. Would a farmer acquire a John Deere tractor with out checking it over before handing over its price? This is another untruth revealing contempt for the lord of the banquet. The third man is a downright twister of marital circumstances. In Jewish society the custom was to relieve newly-wed males from one year’s military service. It was not relief from normal social undertakings however inconvenient.
Thus we have three defaulters defying voluntary obligation sealed by solemn promises. Their behavior is inexcusable. These are just examples of a general unwillingness to attend the banquet, hence the master of the house orders a wide and indiscriminate bidding to fill his hall to capacity with guests who formerly would never have shared a cup of tea with the nobility - the socially deprived and scorned of circumstance. When these are gathered, the immense compassion and generosity of the man of enormous affluence is manifested in a further command to his servants. The outcasts and itinerants not suited to well-ordered town life, not wanted among accepted citizenry because their impolite lifestyle, rough appearance and awkward behavior were socially offensive or shameful, these undeserving folk were to be ‘made to come”, effectually persuaded by the strongest possible words of insistence, the word of mercy wherever the wretched and helpless happen to be. Likewise, it is the insistence and effectual call of God that brings the unworthy into his kingdom, as Augustine asserts. It is pride, deviousness, and selfishness that denies the willingly unwilling the ability to enter.