Sunday, May 28, 2017

Making Excuses For Not Showing Up. #JesusFollowers

Would you willingly turn down the chance to be part of something wonderful? Would you give up the opportunity to meet and dine with a famous celebrity, an artist, or some other major world figure? How would that person feel if you declined such an invitation? How would YOU feel if you invited someone to dine and they make a lame excuse for not showing up?

That's the set-up to Jesus' “Parable of the Great Banquet.” Jesus here tells the story (recorded in Luke 14:15-24) of a man who gave “a great banquet, and invited many.” When the banquet was ready, he sent servants out to collect the invited guests. But the guests all gave rather lame excuses why they couldn't come:

One said: “I've bought a field, and I must go out and see it.” Another said he had just bought oxen, “and I must go look at them.” Yet another said he had just married a wife. Lame excuses, for sure.

So the servant came back and told his master what had happened. Then, as the Book of Luke tells it:

“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 [later] 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, so my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited shall taste my banquet.”

Are we making excuses for not attending a banquet, too?

When Jesus calls us to join with him in building a Kingdom of Heaven, and challenges us to become perfect and merciful, as God Himself is perfect and merciful, are we accepting that message? Or are we making excuses for why we cannot do such a thing?

Some religious teachers have said that the invited guests who rejected the man giving the banquet (be it God Himself, with Jesus, God's chosen one, acting as his servant here) were the Jewish people of the time. And while many of the Jews reject Jesus – as Jesus himself testified – all did not. So it's an imperfect interpretation.

Of course, the Jewish religious leaders of that era did reject Jesus and his message, and that mirrors what Jesus said repeatedly, especially during his ministry's final weeks, as he came to know they would put him to death.

But the Gospel stories (and the early part of the Book of Acts) portray the people in Judea rushing to Jesus, swarming to hear his teachings, and eagerly clinging to his words.

Are the religious elites today – those who build little kingdoms to honor themselves, rather than God's Kingdom – rejecting the banquet of Jesus' teachings? It could be, and that may be a more honest interpretation of this Parable than hanging it on “the Jews” - then or now.

In Jesus' parable, OTHERS are being sought in place of “those invited.” The religious elites of his day – the same ones who walked coldly by as the man lay injured on the side of the road – couldn't be bothered with Jesus' teachings. It took an outsider, a Good Samaritan, to stop and help the injured man.

Jesus also spoke to a woman drawing water from a well in Samaria, another despised outsider. And Jesus sat and ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and other renegades who needed to hear his teachings. This angered the religious elites who didn't think those people were worthy.

At its core, however, the Parable's central message is that of helping the poor, the outsider, the destitute, instead of the rich and the well connected. That, also is a theme that runs clearly throughout the ministry of Jesus, and his teachings proclaimed it loudly.

Indeed, the Parable is preceded by a story of a wedding feast, in which he warns against taking the best seats, noting that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:15)

And this Banquet Parable is followed by another in which the Costs of Discipleship must be counted, and those who make excuses, or are unwilling to sacrifice “all” for the Kingdom aren't worthy of it. (Luke 14:25-33)

Jesus says the man throwing the banquet in the Parable seeks to totally fill his house. If this “man” is a stand-in for Jesus himself, acting for God, our Creator, it becomes a powerful message that God wishes all of us to crowd into the Kingdom Jesus says must be first built here on earth, “as it is in Heaven” regardless of whomever else is refusing to attend.

Let us start crowding in to this banquet, and invite all others to partake of it!

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