My parents are a part of the builder generation. Dr. Gary L. McIntosh helps define this generation as a generation that “Through tough times and with hard work built families, traditions, values, homes, friendships, communities, churches, and the greatest nation in the world.” I remember growing up with community and relationship being so valuable to my parents. No matter where we lived, within a short time relationships would begin to develop with the neighbors within the community. It would not be odd or strange to have visitors visit our home multiple times a week, whether it was for dinner, dessert or just a snack. One of my fondest memories was an annual event we used to participate in when I was a child. These were our community block parties, my parents helped coordinate these gatherings. We would invite everyone that lived on our block to the event. We would all meet on the scheduled date and enjoy a great cookout, all kinds of music, and refreshments. I would begin at early afternoon and end late in the evening with fireworks. As a child I would have so much fun with the neighborhood kids as we played, went swimming and just enjoyed in the festivities. The event was a success that went on for a number of years in the neighborhood. Relationships truly blossomed during those years; people authentically cared for one another. Everyone was invited but not everyone came.
In the prelude to the Parable of the Grand Banquet, we find Jesus sharing a meal in the house of a Pharisee. This may seem odd, but as Jesus traveled he ate in the homes of many when he was invited. A sick man was present before Jesus and he was moved by compassion and he healed the man. Jesus asked those in attendance if it was wrong to heal on the Sabbath, since the Sabbath was a day of rest. The Pharisee’s were speechless, no one would answer, Jesus uses the following example: if you had a child or animal that was hurt or was trapped and could die, would you not help it or care for it on the Sabbath? Jesus continues by emphasizing the importance of humility in contrast to pursuing positions of honor. As referenced also in James 4:10 “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Jesus’ teaching emphasizes compassion, humility, and inclusivity. He encourages the listeners to invite the down and out; those that would normally be looked down upon.
Moved by Jesus’ teaching, one of those in attendance said “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 14:15) Jesus takes the opportunity to tell a story, the story of a man who was going to put on a great banquet. The custom of those days was to send out an invitation and then follow up with another reminder which would be done by a servant. The master sent his servant out as the reminder to those invited. On his journey he began to receive a number of excuses on why those invited would not attend. Some had the care for their fields, another livestock, meanwhile another had just gotten married. The servant told the master of what had happened and the master becomes upset. He tells his servant to go out and invite all those in the alleys and back streets that need a meal to come to the dinner. Once the servant had done this with a desire to have a full house the master sends the servant to the country side and tells him to invite all to the meal. Those originally invited have forfeited their seats at the table and would receive nothing.
The flimsy excuses were dishonoring to the host who had prepared this special banquet. He then opens the banquet to those which the listener would consider ceremonially unclean, those ritually impure and unable to attend temple worship. He invites them all in for the banquet. The message was so profound then and it has not lost its potency today. The one central point of this parable is that we accept God’s invitation. Our block parties of old were great; all those who accepted the invitation had a great time and the benefits were numerous. Those benefits only lasted for a short moment in history. The banquet that Jesus has invited us to has eternal benefits. Accept his invitation, and reap the blessings of God.