Accompanied by her fiancé, a woman went to the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston to order what was supposed to be their wedding banquet. They poured over the menu, made selections of china and silver, pointed to the pictures of flower arrangements they liked. They both had expensive tastes and the bill came to $13,000. After leaving a check for half that amount as a down payment, the couple went home to flip through books of wedding announcements.
The day the announcements were supposed to hit the mailbox, the potential groom got cold feet. “I’m just not sure,” he said, “it’s a big commitment. Let’s think about this a little bit longer.” And he dumped his fiancée. When his angry fiancée returned to the Hyatt to cancel the banquet, the Events Manager could not have been more understanding. “The same thing happened to me, honey,” she said and told the story of her own broken engagement. But about the refund, she had bad news. “The contract is binding. You’re only entitled to $1300 back. You have two options, forfeit the rest of the down payment (thousands of dollars) or go ahead with the banquet. I’m sorry, really I am.”
It seemed crazy, but the more the jilted bride thought about it, the more she liked the idea of going ahead with the party. Not a wedding banquet, mind you, but a big blow-out. Tens years before, the same woman had been living in a homeless shelter. She’d gotten back on her feet, found a good job, set aside a sizable nest egg. Now she had this wild notion of using her savings to treat the down and outs of Boston to a night on the town.
And so it was in June of 1990 the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston hosted at party such as it had never seen before. The hostess changed the menu to boneless chicken in honour of the groom, she said. She sent invitations to rescue missions and homeless shelters. That warm summer night people who were used to peeling half-mud pizza off the cardboard, dined instead on chicken cordon bleu. Hyatt waiters in tuxedos served hors d’oeuvres to senior citizens propped up by crutches and aluminium walkers. Bag ladies, vagrants and addicts took one night off from the hard life on the sidewalks outside and instead ate chocolate wedding cake and danced to Big Band melodies late into the night.
This morning we are looking at another great banquet. Another banquet that is open to those who are considered to be nobodies. Let's look at Jesus' Parable of the Great Banquet
When a travelling rabbi passed through a village the local religious leaders might invite him for a meal in order to examine his opinions. This is the scene before us. But things are tense. It was the Sabbath and Jesus had healed a man of dropsy. He was exposing their religious hypocrisy. He also challenged their thirst for honour and praise. Perhaps to bring the conversation onto more comfortable ground one of those reclining at the table said, 'Blessed is everyone who will eat the bread in the kingdom of God.'
Hundreds of years earlier Isaiah had talked about the great banquet that was for the end of time. Isaiah had spoken of people from all the nations being there. But religious Jews had twisted the plain meaning of the text and interpreted as saying that one pious Jews like themselves would enjoy the party. The man at the table with Jesus expected him to affirm this. Instead, Jesus points out that God is more gracious than he had ever imagined.
1. No excuses will be accepted.
The first thing that I want us to notice is that no excuses will be acceptable for missing the banquet.
Jesus’ parable centres on a great banquet. These were special occasions that the host might have arranged only once or twice in his life. To be invited was a great privilege. But those invited to this banquet did not see it as a privilege.
The host would have invited a set number of people and then on the basis of how many said they were coming he would decide how much meat was needed. On the day of the banquet, when everything was ready, he would send his servant to declare, 'come, for everything is ready.' But there is a shock. The guests who had earlier pledged their attendance now come up with some lame excuses for not attending.
The first guest says that he has just bought a field which he must now inspect. The Middle East contains much desert and little agricultural land. To buy and sell agricultural land could stretch on for months, even years. No one would ever by a field without first examining it. ‘I have just brought a house over the phone, I have never seen it so I must go and see what it is like.’ That doesn’t sound very plausible.
The second excuse is equally pathetic. ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen and must test them.' A yoke of oxen would have been tested to see if they could pull together and if they tired at the same speed. No one would have made such a purchase without testing them first. I can’t imagine any farmer I know replying, ‘I have just spent tens of thousands on a new tractor, I must go and see what type I have purchased.’
The third excuse is simply rude. Notice that is does not contain the ‘please excuse me of the other two.’ ‘I have just got married, I cannot come.’ But wedding feasts were organised well in advance. When the invitation came for the banquet surely he would have noticed it was clashing with his wedding. The whole thing is not plausible.
The truth of the matter is that the invited guests simply do not want to come to the banquet. This is a picture of how the religious leaders were responding to Jesus. They didn’t like him; they didn’t like his message; and they didn’t like the sort of people he attracted.
So many people reject Jesus’ invitation because they don’t like the sort of party he offers. They want church to be for their sort of people (whether white or black, middle-class or working class, young or old, contemporary or traditional). They want the attention to be focused on what we do for God rather than what God has done for us. We want praise for ourselves rather than simply celebrating Jesus. Yet Jesus speaks of forgiveness; Jesus attracts people who see their need of forgiveness; Jesus doesn’t side with any one culture and race; and Jesus deeply loves people who get on our nerves.
Truth is no excuses will be accepted for not accepting his offer of grace. ‘He asks too much of me, I don’t want to stop sleeping with my girlfriend’—that won’t cut it as an excuse. ‘I don’t want to be considered a religious freak’—that won’t cut it as an excuse. ‘I simply can’t accept a God who allows suffering in the world’—the issue of suffering may cause us a sincere dilemma, but it doesn’t provide an adequate excuse for rejecting God’s gracious invitation. On the Day of Judgement no excuses will be accepted for not crowning Jesus our forgiver and leader!
2. Amazing grace of God's invitation.
The Middle East is a shame culture. The pathetic excuses for not attending the party would have been recognised as a calculated insult. People would have been talking about this for years. But the host responds with amazing kindness.
'Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor, the blind, and lame.' This is where the outcasts were found in the city. Jesus had already taught, 'when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.' Jesus offers us grace and expects us to act graciously towards others. He has treated us with mercy and expects us to be merciful. He has treated us as we do not deserve and expects us to show kindness.
The outcasts did come to Jesus. The broken and failed come to Jesus. His message of forgiveness resonates with those who recognise we are spiritually bankrupt. We are amazed and feel privileged that he would invite us. We are the spiritually poor, lame, and blind. We know that we could never return the favour. We know that the appropriate response is to be thankful. But the proud, the good and the respectable don’t see what Jesus has to offer them.
The servant notices that there are still empty seats. 'Go out into the highways and hedges and compel people to enter, that the house may be filled.' The message is taken outside the city. This has long being thought to be a picture of the message being taken to non-Jews (Gentiles). This message is for all people groups. God is gathering together a people that will form the great inter-racial multitude that will sing praises to Jesus around the throne of God.
‘Compel them to come.’ The servant was told this because they might not take the invitation seriously. It might seem too good to be true. ‘So grab them by the arm and bring them to see.’ We are to plead with people and pray persistently pray for people to listen to the good news we want to share with them. Remember the five people we said that we would pray for—how are we doing in persisting for them in prayer and looking for the opportunity to speak to them about Jesus?
We are not invited because we are impressive—we are the spiritually lame, blind and poor. We are not invited because of what we can offer—we will never be able to repay the gracious invitation. We are not invited because we were enthusiastic—we had to be compelled to come in. The guests should never forget what we were—the Christian life necessarily begins in humility but we can become proud and critical as we travel along. The guests must always be telling others that they too are welcome—if they are not too proud to come.