Download or listen to The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, “God’s Feast versus Ours” (Luke 14:1-14 [15-24])
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I think the moral of this story is pretty clear: don’t invite Jesus to your party. At least, not if you’re Pharisees and experts in the law who are trying to trip Him up, trap Him, catch Him healing on the Sabbath. But they did invite Jesus to their Saturday night Sabbath party. And they also invited someone else, a man with “dropsy.” I didn’t know what it was either, or at least I’d forgotten since the last time this text came up. It’s apparently what we would call edema, basically a buildup of fluid in various parts of the body. It’s painful and debilitating, as some of you may know. But they’ve invited this man and put him near Jesus, or at least where Jesus can see him, and now they’re watching out of the corners of their eyes to see what Jesus will do. Jesus knows what they’re trying to do, so He asks them, “Is it lawful, you experts in the law, to heal on the Sabbath?” No answer. So Jesus takes him, heals him, and sends him away. He doesn’t want to be at this party of the Law, anyway. Jesus has a better party for him. When he’s gone, Jesus asks them, “If one of you had a son or an ox, a member of your family or one of your animals, and it fell into a well, you’d wait until the Sabbath was over to pull it out, right? Of course not. You would pull it out immediately. So this man was down in the pit of his affliction, and I pulled him out. The Sabbath was made for mercy, not mercy for the Sabbath.”
Awkward silence. The room sort of goes dead for a minute. And then some reluctant smiles, the laughter and the talking starts again. People go back to what they were doing. And now Jesus starts watching. He sees how they are jockeying and maneuvering for position, trying to get closest to the host, because those are the most important seats. This is why James and John and their mother asked Jesus to let them sit at His right and left when He comes into His Reign. Those are the most important seats, next to the host. Jesus sees this and He says, “Hey! When you are invited to a wedding feast”–strange, since this isn’t a wedding feast– “when you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t take the best seats, the first seats, the most important seats. Because what if your host has invited someone more important than you? Then he will tell you to give your seat to this one, and, since all the other seats are full, you will go, red-faced with shame, to the lowest seat. Instead, take the lowest seat, the last seat, the worst seat. Then your host will come and say to you, “Friend, move up higher!” Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
And then Jesus says to the host, “When you give a feast or a banquet, don’t invite your friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors, because they will be able to invite you back next weekend. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, because they cannot repay you. But you will be blessed because you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous.” And now there’s complete silence. The party’s all shot to hell. Jesus has completely killed the mood. No one can eat or joke around now. The party’s done. And our text is done, but Jesus isn’t done. He goes on to tell another story, another parable. Notice that what Jesus says to the people and to the host is called “a parable” by Luke. But Jesus tells another story, and this one makes it clear that our ways are not God’s ways. Our feasts are not God’s feast. The evidence for this is that we can’t even take Jesus seriously. Almost every commentary, every article, every comment on this passage says something like, “Jesus isn’t really saying you can’t have your friends and relatives over; He doesn’t really mean you have to invite the poor and crippled and lame and blind into your house if you want to have a party.” Maybe, but that’s not what He says. And the fact that that’s the first thing that comes to our minds just shows how far away we are from God’s ways of dealing with us. Jesus’ words make me uncomfortable, because I’m an introvert, and I don’t like making chit-chat and small talk with people I don’t know. We can barely imagine doing what Jesus says to do. And that’s because our ways are not God’s ways. God’s ways are like this: a man gave a feast and sent his slave out to tell the ones he had invited that the party was ready. But all of them, together, had excuses for why they couldn’t come. It’s almost like it’s a conspiracy. This one had to check out some land, that one some cattle, this one was just married. None of them come to the feast; they’ve all got better things to do. When the slave tells his Lord, he gets angry and tells him to go out into the streets of the city and invite in the crippled, the poor, the blind, the lame. He does, and he reports back that there is still room. So the master says go out again, go everywhere, and bring them in, so that my house may be filled. He has a feast that is ready, and he wants everyone to come. But those who reject His invitation, who have better things to do, will never taste it.
God doesn’t invite His friends and neighbors, because He doesn’t have any. We think, they’ve got to be stupid to turn down a free party, or at least a free meal! The man is giving it away for free, and these people are excusing themselves based on things that don’t even have to be done at that moment. We’d be there in a second. But would we? Do we come to the feast of God when He invites us? Because the invitation has already gone out, from the beginning of creation. And when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to buy back those who were under the Law. To call everyone to the death and resurrection feast that has been prepared by Him. To come and eat the fruit of the cross, and it’s all free. The feast has begun! You have showered, and you’ve been clothed in the finest clothes that Jesus has. Surely we will not exalt ourselves above His invitation? We will not make excuses that we’ve got better things to do. We will not do things that we could do at other times. Will we? But we do; we have. It’s almost like it’s a conspiracy. And, in fact, it is: a conspiracy of Adam. In Adam, we have all been one, one huge rebellious man. All of us, enemies of God; all of us, the low-down, dirty, waterlogged scum of the earth. But that’s a good thing for us, because those are the sorts of people Jesus likes to party with. Jesus dies for His enemies, not His friends. Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners; He invites the lame, the crippled, the blind, the poor, to His feast, and He heals them every one. All of those fallen down into the pits of despair, disease, depression; all the losers and the lost; all the afflicted and the afterthoughts, Jesus says to you: Friend, move up higher. Come and sit next to Me, eat My Food. The feast has been prepared, and He wants His house full of the likes of you and me. The feast has begun, and even though you didn’t want Him at your party, He invited you to His. While we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.
So I pray that you will come to know the treasure that is the feast of His Body and Blood; I pray that you will not exalt yourself above your need for Him; that you will find nothing better to do than to feast with Jesus at His table. And when you fall down into the pit of death, there is nothing Jesus will love better than raising you up, all because the Father raised up Him from the pit of His death. This is the feast of His victory. And He will have His House filled.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/31/13