Stories help us understand and give us context and vocabulary to make meaning out of what we experience in life. That is why stories are so powerful and captivate our attention. Because they help us make sense out of all kinds of emotions, situations, and circumstances. How we relate, connect and find ourselves in a story helps explain how and why we feel what we feel, do what we do, and react the way we react. For this reason, stories are one of if not the most powerful way of learning, connecting, and understanding.
Jesus knew this and used the power of story to preach, teach, challenge, encourage, and transform the lives of all those who would have ears to hear.
In Luke 14, we read a fascinating text because in part one, the scene is a wedding party and in Jesus’ day that was the kind of occasion people would vie for a place of honor. It was their chance to be seen by the who's who of the day. And so we find ourselves either as the one throwing the party or the one attending the party. If we are the host of the party, we are challenged to seek out and recognize those who come with humility and graciousness and give them a place of honor rather than the ones who come with hidden agendas and are only there to rub elbows with the elite. If we are the guest attending the party we are challenged to set aside our desire for personal gain and recognition of our status and put other guests before ourselves. The lesson being that honor comes through humility and blessing through service.
Luke 14 is an invitation to participate in the very kingdom of God. This is the moment the Jewish people had been waiting for - the moment God says to them, “I am here, you waiting is over, come and join me, your God, and feast in the long awaited kingdom of God.”
If you haven’t figured it out yet, this story is not about food! It is a metaphor of what Jesus was and is inviting us to participate in. The party to which the original guests were invited was Jesus’ kingdom movement, the living breathing Kingdom of God. It is his remarkable welcome to all people. It is not about food and festivities. It is not about rules and long standing boundaries. It is not about being at the right table with the right people at the right time or on the right side of the issue.
The great banquet is about a kingdom movement that God, through Jesus was and is leading and calling all people to be a part of. The point of such an elaborate story, I believe, is to describe, illustrate and make tangible what Jesus was about; what God was offering to all people, and the idea that If people wanted to be included in Jesus’ movement, this is the sort of thing they were joining - a movement in which ALL are welcome to feast on the goodness, mercy, and grace of God through Jesus.
There are a lot of people in churches, denominations and religious organizations struggling to understand who is invited and who is not to the kingdom table of Jesus. There are a lot of good people on both sides of multiple issues being challenged, ridiculed, ostracized, targeted, pitted against each other, and emotionally torn up over who gets to participate in the kingdom banquet / kingdom movement that Jesus has set in motion and who does not.
Nowhere in this parable does Jesus say to weed out the guest list; prioritize by gender, financial status, ethnicity, and educational level; measure their value by what they drive, where they live, and who they know; weight their worth by who they love, what party lines they vote, or where they work, if they work.
Jesus tells this story to help us understand that if we want to follow Jesus - if we want to be the believer and church Jesus calls us to be - if we accept his invitation to this great banquet, this kingdom movement, than we better be prepared to dine, to serve, live and learn alongside people who are different than what we expect. We better recognize God is a God of surprises and the unexpected.
What gives this banquet life are the lives of all those who come - those who respond and have the courage to say, “we may not agree, we may not fully understand, we may have different ideas and explanations BUT Jesus is at the center of all that we are.
So what would it mean to celebrate God’s kingdom so that the people at the bottom of the pile, at the end of the line, or on the other side of the wall, would find it to be a story of good news and NOT a harsh word of judgement or divisive criticism? A story of loving our neighbor and not hating or destroying them before ever knowing them?
Can such a story be told? Will our lives be the ones to tell it? Will our story here at Grace church be the kind of banquet giving kingdom moving story that Jesus wants us to tell?
With all my heart, I pray it so. Amen.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine