One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘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 everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”’
Have you ever been in a situation where your guest criticizes everything you believe in, making everyone at the table uncomfortable? This is what Jesus, a guest in a pharisee’s house, is doing with this parable. Following the blessing by another guest, Jesus talks very plainly about who will be included in God’s kingdom and who might exclude themselves from the feast.
In Jesus’ day the poor, crippled, blind and lame were not allowed into “respectable” company because they were considered unclean. A Pharisee might have invited some widows to a meal at his house, but not anyone with whom to eat would have made him unclean.
Jesus, in contrast, invites the outcasts to God’s banquet, in the place of those who had been invited but were too busy with other things to come. (It would have been the height of rudeness to refuse an invitation in the way Jesus describes in this parable).
But the poor have not the distractions of the rich so they are free to accept the unexpected invitation to the banquet. As for the others in the roads and lanes outside the town, these are the gentiles, never part of God’s chosen – yet here they are asked to fill the house so that the original invited guests will have no room.
We in the Church should heed this warning. Jesus tells us plainly that no-one is excluded from God’s kingdom feast. Who might we be excluding by our customs or our language? Are we so preoccupied with peripheral matters that we cut ourselves off from the invitation to the Kingdom banquet?
We should be made uncomfortable by this parable. May we keep on accepting God’s invitation whenever it comes and welcome the fellowship of those considered outcast by society at God’s table.
Welcoming God, You invite all to your kingdom feast. Help us to be like you in our welcome to all whom society treats as outcast, and generous in our hospitality. May “all are welcome” be our reality as your kingdom people. Amen
The Rev’d Helen Everard Chaplain to the Moderators of General Assembly, Minister Wonersh URC Surrey.