Guest preaching: St. Paul’s, Long Beach
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Come, for all is now ready.”You’d think the people would be piling through the doors, like a bunch of LA Kings’ hockey players trying to get their hands on the Stanley Cup. The table is set. The feast is prepared. The dinner bell rings. You know the food’s going be good. One man declares: “Blessed is everyone who will eat the bread in the kingdom of God.”
He’s right, of course. Everyone who eats the Bread of God is blessed. Problem is, everyone invited isn’t coming. So Jesus tells them a parable exposing the Pharisees’ rejection in the process.The whole scenario is rather unexpected. A sumptuous feast. The finest of wines. The richest of foods. The good stuff your doctor says to stay away from. And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus, God in human flesh is there teaching and eating with them. What more could you ask for?! And yet, they all make excuses.
How unexpected. You don’t sit down at the dinner table after a long day at work, famished only to say, “No thanks. I’d rather go to bed with my stomach gurgling.” That’s crazy.
In fact, this whole parable is full of unexpected things. But the most unexpected thing about this parable is that God is the biggest beggar. No one’s clamoring to get in, pounding on the door or shoving their way to the table like you’d expect. Rather, it is God who begs in order that He might give. The Lord is the Giver. He begs to give that others may have. He gives and you receive. That’s the grammar of the Gospel.For the Lord loves a banquet. He is the happiest when his people are gathered around him at the table. The Lord delights in giving out good things – ordinary, everyday things, and things far beyond the ordinary. It has always been that way. When God created the world, He was so pleased with it that He couldn’t keep it for himself and simply had to share it with those who would delight in it with him.
There’s always more than we could ever imagine. Just go to the Long Beach aquarium sometime and see how many varieties of fish there are. God could have made only 12 of each species, but there’s an absurd amount of fish: one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, Nemos, trigger fish, dog fish (which is funny because dog=fish in Hebrew, only spelled differently of course) and my favorite, the humbug fish; it looks like a referee.God is an abundant, ridiculous Giver; and His abundant, unexpected mercy doesn’t stop with the 1st article; He lays it all out in the 2nd and 3rd too. That was the whole point of Jesus’ dinner parable. And yet, his grace, his eating and drinking with sinners, his teaching, and his presence – the very things that bring life – are met by the Pharisees with heartrending rejection, one excuse after another, each one more insulting and fabricated than the last.
First, there was the real estate expert. “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.”It’s a boldfaced lie and everyone knows it. No one in Jesus’ day – or today – goes out and buys a piece of land sight unseen; that’s asking for trouble. The buyer investigates every rock, tree and soil type on the land. Walk the property, learn its history and get an inspection report before buying the place. It’s an obvious insult and a farce. For this man, his field is more important than the banquet.
Then there’s the rancher, an alleged livestock expert. “I have bought 5 yokes of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.”What a pile of oxen manure. His excuse is as transparent as the last guy’s. You should expect a buyer to examine his livestock – or like you would a vehicle - make sure they pull together as a team, run a straight row in your field, otherwise they’re worthless. It’s good to take the oxen out for a test drive before you buy them, but not afterwards. This guy’s fooling no one either. Now we see where the invitation really stands. Even the unclean oxen are more important than the banquet.
And lastly there’s the passionate bridegroom: “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”How rude. How insulting. Why not bring his new bride along? The wedding feast is clearly over. But rather than celebrate a great banquet, rivaling any marriage feast, this last man gives no excuse; He is brutally honest: “I cannot come.” His bride and his feast are more important than the banquet. Ironically this bridegroom is too busy to celebrate the real wedding with the real bridegroom at a real banquet.
They all refuse the invitation. It is a gift, which means it can be rejected. And though Jesus is rejected, angry even, his response is utterly unexpected. Where we would lash out in anger and vengeance, Jesus weeps and mourns: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you would not!”
Where we would point a judgmental finger at the self-righteous, He calls out to the servants of the house: “Go out quickly to the streets and bring the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”
God points the finger of judgment upon his own Son, and you go free with an invitation to the Table of our Lord: “Come, for all is now ready.”
Where we would join Jonah in waiting for fire to rain down upon Nineveh, the Lord delights in pouring out His unconditional, unmerited, outrageous, abundant mercy upon you. That is Christ’s greatest delight: to suffer for you on the cross. To become the fool, the sinner, the unholy, the cursed, the outcast, the beggar…all for you.
Our Lord loves to give. He invites, pleads, gives and begs to save you – he doesn’t get on his hands and knees - but rather sticks his own body on the tree, a gracious invitation: “Come, for all is now ready.” So, what can I bring to the party? Just this: Your sickness, suffering, sin and death and he gives you forgiveness, life, healing – even a feast in return. “Open your mouth wide,” our Lord says, “and I will fill it.”In place of our foolishness, Christ is our wisdom; In place of our sins, Christ is our righteousness; In place of our weakness, Christ is our sanctification; In place of our bondage to sin, Christ is our redemption. The Crucified One gives you nothing but the best he has to offer: His hands, his head, his body, his blood; he gives you himself. What an unexpected and joyous party.
God may be the biggest beggar, but he is not alone. He is a beggar who welcomes beggars into the Kingdom. “Go, out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”Notice Jesus doesn’t say: “Go out and let them decide if they want a seat at the table; let them work for their supper, or make sure they’re cleaned up enough.” No, we come to the Lord’s feast on his terms, not ours. It is the Lord’s feast, the Lord’s invitation, the Lord’s compelling, and the Lord’s doing from start to finish and everything in between. This feast is pure gift.
The best way to come to this feast is to heed the Divine Beggar’s call and come as a beggar yourself. We are beggars, this is true. We are undeserving, unworthy, unfit. And yet our Lord gives. Unexpectedly. Unconditionally. Unreservedly. For He loves nothing more than to roll out a banquet for beggars.
So, come, with all of your sin and your sullied hands, your filthy garments and self-righteous rags and receive the wedding garments made white in the blood of the Lamb. Come with your empty sacks ready to be filled with good things. Come with your ashes and repentance ready to be washed in mercy. Come with your bellies aching ready to receive the Bread of God; the Bread of Life is here to feed you, sustain you and give you his own body and blood to eat and drink. Come here to the banquet table of our Lord; it extends all the way back to our Lord’s dinner-table in Luke 14 and all the way forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Our Lord just keeps adding leafs to the table, like a big family Sunday dinner. There’s plenty of room. Let the house be filled. This is one feast you don’t want to miss.“Come, for all is now ready.”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.