Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"The Great Feast Is Now"

Text: Luke 14:12-24

Revelation 3:20-22

 

One of the themes interspersed throughout the gospels is what we call “table fellowship.” It seems recorded in every few chapters is Jesus sitting down at table to have yet anothermeal with someone, or with a lot of someone’s. Jesus did not discriminate.

He’d sit down and eat with and everybody – His disciples, His friends and family members, young and old, rich and poor, righteous and sinner, tax collectors, harlots, even with those who opposed and hated Him. That’s remarkable in light of the fact that most folks are very selective as to whom they share a meal with. For the most part, we dine within our own circles, don’t we? Few of us would even entertain the thought of sitting down and eating with those radically different from us, let alone with those who oppose and hate us. Such an openness to table fellowship with anybody and everybody would have been mystifying to the Jews of Jesus’ day. For in Jewish thought, to sit at table and break bread with someone was symbolic of a deeply intimate relationship, one which was qualified by acceptance, trust, and unity.

            We’re going to read this morning one of those stories of table fellowship. The story opens telling us that “On one occasion, when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they [ie. Jesus’ opponents] were watching him closely.” After a controversial healing of a man who was suffering edema, perhaps from some heart or circulatory condition, and a little lesson on humility, Jesus spoke directly to the host of the supper. And here is what He said:

            (Read Luke 14:12-24)

            This morning’s scripture would have been rich in meaning for its first-century audience. In the context of this table fellowship, Jesus told a story often called “The Parable of the Great Feast.” It could just as well be called “The Parable of the Disrespectful Invitees.” As with all of Jesus’ parables, He is responding here to what He sees as an obvious need for instruction. Probably in attendance at this supper in “the house of a leader of the Pharisees” were important people in the community – lawyers, priests, scribes, big whigs of every stripe. Many brought with them a secret agenda which was to catch Jesus teaching or acting unlawfully. The parable we heard fol- lows another about a wedding feast and places of honor; a story about the scramble for the best seats. The main point of that parable is recorded in the verse which immediately precedes this morning’s passage, when Jesus says: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

            Perhaps the teaching in the Parable of the Great Feast is aimed at those who missed the point of the first parable. In verse 15, we meet one of those guests who apparently didn’t get the point as he piously expressed the certainty of his own invitation: “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” One can’t argue with the truth of that statement on the surface of it. Yet Jesus seems to sense right away that these words are not coming from a humble heart. The “anyone” to whom this man refers is probably himself. Moreover, these words don’t seem to be coming from one who recognizes that the Kingdom of God is presently upon him with Jesus’ presence. It is to this man, whose heart Jesus perceives is swelled with pride and self-assurance, that Jesus responds. It is to this man, who is complacent in responding to the present invitation, that Jesus is directing this parable. “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for every- thing is ready now.’”

            It seems that Jesus is replying to the man’s statement, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Jesus is driving the point that with His own coming, the announcement is made: “…everything is ready now.” With Jesus’ arrival, the time to answer the invitation is not in the sweet by-and-by. It is here and now. But Jesus knows that now isn’t always convenient. As He expresses it parabolically, “…they all alike began to make excuses.” The man at the table with Jesus was, in effect, one of the disrespectful guests who saw the invitation to “eat bread in the kingdom” as a purely future event; something which could wait until he was good and ready;something which could be put off or placed on hold until other more urgent matters could be attended to.

            In Jesus’ parable, the master of this great feast was not looking for excuses. He was looking for those who were ready to accept the invitation, not tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or when convenient or expedient, but now. The parable suggests the decision to accept is a matter of some urgency. As the invitees appear to see no urgency in the invitation, the master says to his servant: “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” By way of this story, Jesus makes it clear to this man – and to any hearers then or now who dwell and bask in self-worthiness – that those considered unworthy will have a place at the table. Jesus here clarifies His earlier teaching that “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” The master’s invitation goes out to any and all who would accept, who would say “Yes,” that his banquet hall would be filled.

            Do we ever find ourselves slipping into an attitude of self-assured complacency; of Christian hubris and pride? Although we may have whole-heartedly accepted the initial invitation, do we find ourselves becoming lax, taking the position that we’ll get to the table – that we’ll get to the things of God – when we’re good and ready. Meanwhile, there are other more important things vying for our time and attention. You can fill in the blanks. Jesus said to His Jewish audience then, and says to His church audience today, the great feast is now! “Come, for everything is ready….. now.”

            Jesus comes to us in dual roles as both servant of all, and as Master of all. As Master, He comes through this table and its elements of sacrificial love, and invites us to take our places. And if we don’t, others will. As servant, Jesus calls: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” It is our choice to either accept or decline Christ’s invitation. We won’t be force-fed. Let’s not make excuses. Let us rather enter into the presence and joy of God’s Kingdom today by coming to this table with humble hearts. Jesus says the time is now. The Kingdom is at hand. Come, let us join in a great feast.” Amen.