A certain man made a great supper, and bade many; and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that they were bidden; Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse…
The Church has come up against many difficult situations: We claim that God has taken action to save the world and that action involved God becoming a creature. But after becoming a creature, a human being, he was rejected by the people he had come to save – the very People God had been preparing for his coming, those who were to receive him on behalf of the whole world – rejected him. And, as you know, it was worse than that: He was publically tortured and killed. How may a rejected and crucified man be the consummation of God’s love? Well, as counter-intuitive as it is, the Church has come to understand his death as somehow necessary for the redemption of the world. The proof that his death is redemptive, and the proof that he is all that he claimed to be, is the fact that he was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples whose names we know.
Of course, he did not merely appear – he was not a spirit or specter hovering momentarily hither and thither only one day to vanish once and for all. He was not a spirit that survived physical death; he was the same Jesus, body and all, who was impaled upon the cross. And we are keenly aware that his death and resurrection did not eclipse the past, but rather his death and resurrection opened up horizons never imagined – new horizons that included the human body and human relations. For example, his relationship with his disciples was not merely intact after his resurrection; it continued to mature. Some things remained while others had to change. After his resurrection he ate with his apostles, he even cooked for them, he taught them, and he gave them an overarching plan to execute. And in at least two cases, one with Peter and the other with Thomas, prior to handing over his plan, he had to deal with some unfinished matters for their good and the good of the new community of the Church. So he addressed them, in front of their peers, so personally, so specifically, so poignantly concerning their recent apostasies that we have recorded even the fits of emotion that followed. And yet he does not come off as goading or even scolding Peter or Thomas, but instead, helping them get on with a new beginning they could never had guessed. In all these things we see one hard situation after another that becomes a blessing.
But there is yet another great difficulty that continues to loom large for us, and it is his absence. How can Jesus continue to be the pledge and surety of the love of God in a meaningful way when he is absent?
Without having seen him you love him; and though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.
Well, yes, sometimes we do rejoice, and sometimes we don’t. The heaviness of his absence has always weighed upon the saints. At the very end of the last book of the Bible, the Revelation, St. John the Theologian cannot hold it back any longer and he writes:
He (Jesus) who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I come quickly.’
And John replies:
Amen! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
We are not at home with his absence and yet we love him and believe in him and even rejoice that we know him. But what does that mean? How do we know him? The answer is Word and Sacrament. We experience the love of Christ and very real presence in both the Word of God written and the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
A certain man made a great supper, and bade many; and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that they were bidden; Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse… (And the master of the house said) Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind…
First , I want you to see the context: Jesus presents this parable of a great supper while dinning with a group of Pharisees. All this happens in chapter 14 of Luke.
One Sabbath when he went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him.
They watched him throughout the meal and from the beginning they tried to entrap Jesus by having a man present at the dinner that had dropsy. So here was a sick man placed right in front of Jesus. They watched him. There’s almost no dialogue. Jesus of course knew exactly what was going on. He asked the lawyers who were present a question:
Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?
They did not speak.
He then “took the man;” a phrase that indicates some form of embrace. He took him and healed him and then let go of him. Then Jesus must have sat back down and he addressed those present:
If you have an ass or an ox that falls into a pit will you not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath?
At that point Jesus told them how they should be careful not to rush to the high tables when they are invited to a feast since someone more honorable may come in and then the host would have to ask them to move to a lower table. Choose the lower table first and then the host may invite you to move up. Then he made the point:
He who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Then Jesus turned to his host and said:
When you give a dinner do not invite your friends and kinsmen and your rich neighbors. They will in turn invite you to a dinner and you are repaid. Instead give a feast and invite the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind. They are the right ones to invite because they cannot pay you back. And God will repay you at the resurrection.
That is the first half of Luke 14 and there is a big lesson to learn from it. How are God’s people supposed to live? God’s people are to live with humility and generosity. Humility and generosity are marks of discipleship. Do not seek the front seats or the high tables of honor, but rather the less conspicuous seat. In fact not only will the disciple of Jesus live with true humility, but his disciples will give to the humble, those who have nothing, without any hope of repayment. Jesus’ disciples will live generously toward others without expecting a pay back. You can identify the humble person because he or she ignores issues of class or rank. God honors the friend of the poor, the lame, and the blind. These ailments alone would have excluded a Jew from Temple worship. Now here’s a point I wish to make: The theme of humility and generosity are at the very heart of the life of how Jesus lived and what he taught his disciples about how they should behave in this life. Jesus was himself humble and generous. And if you wish to follow him then you should pursue those virtues.
Now Jesus presented the Parable of the Great Supper at the end of dinner with the Pharisees. In this parable Jesus is holding up the failure of the Israel’s leadership. Most of the so-called leaders of Israel will miss out on the Messianic banquet because they have other priorities. They all have excuses for turning down the host – Jesus the Messiah. Their rejection of God’s invitation means that others will be invited and they will flock in. There is a touch of irony here. Those who love the high tables and seats of honor will be entirely excluded from the Kingdom of God, while those that they despised and shunned will take their seats in the most important meal of all.
Here’s a final point: God Almighty can easily bring to pass his purposes and put others in our place if we reject him. The Gospel today is an invitation to self-examination. It is a warning that we must not be presumptuous of our relationship with God. Do I think that my salvation is so certain that I am beyond the common duties of every Christian? Do I think my service so necessary to God that I am released from the common life of the Church? I once knew a man who thought he was called to such special service for the Church that he was exempted from the necessity of Sunday worship. He was so busy “saving the Church” that he was not required to go to church. He perceived a caste system in the body of Christ. Do you think you have some special claim upon the promises of Christ that sets you above others? Are you offended by the suggestion that you too can fall away from Christ? This presumption of self-importance is condemned throughout the Scriptures. In the Gospel for today our Lord rings loud a warning to all who feel entitled, who think themselves worthy, who are presumptuous of their special status with our Lord.
For I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper (St. Luke 14:24).