Come, for Everything is Now Ready

Text: Luke 14:16-24
Date: Pentecost III
+ 6/17/07

     It is the age-old story…the tale of the native spiritual blindness of the fallen nature of all men; the account of the God of love who has done everything that needed to be done to restore, to redeem, to save his fallen creation from the devastation of sin, death and the devil—the Gospel which, when it is published and proclaimed, nevertheless is irrationally ignored, rejected, treated as something of secondary importance at best when compared to all the other details of our busy little lives, our frenetic strivings for possessions, for all those things that we have determined make for happiness, success, fame and fulfillment. It is a story Jesus told to the Pharisees. The urgency of the issue may be hidden unless and until you notice that little detail of the story, how the master who had prepared the banquet became angry when his invitation was so flippantly rejected, and precisely by those for whom it was intended as first in line. Jesus knew their blindness, their hardness of heart, even their animosity and refusal to hear, to really hear the Gospel, the good news He came to deliver. If it’s possible to be angry without sin (Ps. 4:4; Eph. 4:26) you can hear the sharp edge of Jesus’ words in telling this little story. If the Pharisees caught the connection, would they repent and turn and listen and believe and be saved? Or would they be offended the more, intent on silencing this “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17)? Well, repentance hurts. It is never easy, comfortable. For repentance means something in us has to die, as when surgery cuts or chemotherapy burns out the deadly threat lodged deeply within.

     I wonder how this parable was preached or was received, say, 50 or 75 years ago when it seemed like everyone was accepting the invitation of salvation demonstrated by the packed pews in multiple services not only here at Zion but in all of our churches both in the cities and in the rural communities of our land; the days like 1954 when the phrase “under God” was adopted by the congress of The United States to be included in the pledge of allegiance. How much easier today to understand the urgency and truth of this parable as churches lay empty, attract but few, Sunday schools all but close, confirmation classes of 30 or 40 or more have become a thing of the past, and the few who for some reason hang in there agonize over having the resources just to cover the basics of salaries, gas and light bills to keep these doors open. The first excuses of our parable differ only in substance. Most people don’t buy fields or oxen anymore. Most people buy houses, cars, motorcycles, golf clubs, entertainment centers, season tickets or vacation packages. The third excuse seems to remain, however, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” You’d think people are just looking for excuses not to come to church. And you’d be right.

     Jesus said, once, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). St. Paul, formerly a zealous Jew himself, agonized over this in his Epistle to the Romans when he observed, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” [Romans 9:4-5 (ESV)]. Nevertheless, these first invitees rejected the invitation and, more tragically, the Inviter. So deeply blind to how all the words of their own prophets had come to fruition and focus in Jesus, the incarnate Son of God and Savior, that they eliminated him, condemning Him to death on a cross. And when the Truth was made known that that death of His was actually for us, the full and sufficient payment for all our sins that opens heaven as a gift for all, still they rejected the gift.

     This parable of the great banquet extends beyond the initial rejection of the Pharisees and the nation of Israel, however, back to the original promise to Abraham that through his Descendant “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” [Genesis 12:3 (ESV)], and forward to the Great Commission of our Lord, the command to make disciples “of all nations” [Matthew 28:19]. Therefore the master of the banquet invites “the poor and crippled and blind and lame” from the streets and lanes of the city, the supposed outcasts of Israel. And they did! And they came! “Many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining [at table] with Jesus and his disciples” [Matthew 9:10 (ESV)]. The Pharisees complained, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” [Luke 15:2 (ESV)]. But even then the servants report, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” Well, of course there still is room! For the promise, the invitation is, ultimately, for everyone, for all the world, through the Jews to all nations. Again, St. Paul put it this way, “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” [Romans 11:15 (ESV)]. “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” This is the Gentile mission that, at first telling, was not part of Jesus’ ministry, but remained a future event to be championed by the great Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul (Rom. 11:13) and the Holy Church since then to this day.

     This gracious invitation, this worldwide Gospel, however, is the last straw, the final blow to the Pharisees’ exclusive claims. And so the story, the parable, ends with a warning. The master of the banquet solemnly announces, “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” This is a warning meant to be a last-ditch effort to bring them and all to repentance, faith and salvation before those last and disastrous words of judgment will be spoken on the last day to all who have rejected Christ, “I never knew you” (Mt. 7:23), “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Mt. 25:12), “You wicked and slothful servant!” (Mt. 25:26), “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41).

          Those of us and all who have been invited, even compelled to come to the feast of salvation, who, through repentance and faith, have been clothed with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, who are even now nourished at the heavenly table of the Lamb’s feast of His body and blood, will be always, eternally amazed at and thankful for the great grace and love of God Who, even while we were still sinners, loved us and sent His Son to die for us. “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” [2 Thess. 2:16-17 (ESV)].