‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed,
“Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”
Bp NT Wright in his little commentary on this passage tells of preaching on this text many years ago. He said that week, he and his wife were invited by people who had been at Church that morning to three different parties. He was too polite to ask which category he and his wife came under: poor, blind, lame or crippled.[i] I was talking to a bishop this week who said he was with his son when his son parked in a disability park. The bishop said you can’t park here, to which his son said, you are spiritually crippled. The bishop wasn’t about to argue with that, but he wasn’t convinced it was sufficient reason to use the parking space.
As Luke tells the Good News of Jesus, he wants us to hear that God has come with love for the whole of humanity. We are all invited to Jesus’ Kingdom movement as NT Wright calls it. We already know from the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8 that the news of the Kingdom is not embraced by all. Some don’t get it at all, some kind of get it but fall away. Certainly, some rejoice in the invitation and fully embrace the whole Kingdom life bearing fruit a hundred-fold. And we also know form the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 it is not the people you might expect who embrace the invitation. Indeed, the person you might least expect to enter into the Kingdom banquet was the Samaritan who literally picked up someone form the highway and brought him to a place to be cared for.
The Parable of the Great Banquet reminds us yet again that some will hear the invitation but will choose not to accept. The Church through out the centuries has seen this particularly as the people of Israel rejecting Jesus. Our first reading from Jeremiah 2 tells us God was often disappointed with the people of Israel. The psalm picks up the same frustration.
“I left them to the stubbornness of their hearts: to walk according to their own designs”. (Psalm 81:12)
Even in that frustration the psalmist is keen that we hear God’s ongoing desire to prepare a banquet of finest wheat and honey from the rocks. (v16)
If we were to move on to the next chapter in Luke’s Gospel we would hear the three parables; of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. God comes to humanity just as the shepherd goes off in search of the sheep, the woman searches for the coin and dad cranes his neck until he sees his son. In this parable of the Banquet the servants are sent out again and again. God’s desire is for all to come to the banquet. Jesus invites all to the kingdom movement. But some realise there is a catch. The invitation comes with assurance that there are no places of honour, in stead every place is a place of honour. Which of course means, the chances are you will find yourself sitting with a Samaritan, a blind man, and a woman who had been caught in adultery. You can’t expect to be in the kingdom where all the riffraff has been locked out.
If that is not going to stick in your gullet then the expectation that the next party you throw you will also be expected to invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame”. It Is not surprising that some will find an excuse. After all who wants to sit beside a spiritually crippled bishop.
It delighted me that when we met recently to discuss who we could invite to the proposed children’s Christmas party at the top of the list were folk from the Angel Tree. They are children who have either a mum or dad in prison. And the next group to be invited would be the children who come to the Rosie’s BBQ once a month in the park. The parable of the Great Banquet and those phrases we read in the letter to the Hebrews were being fully embraced.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…
Remember those who are in prison…
There is a lovely story of St Francis who understood this invitation to the great banquet. Francis had been invited to dinner by his friend, the noble man, Matteo de’ Rossi. While they were waiting for the master to arrive the servants began distributing food to the beggars who came to the palace gate. Francis slipped out and got in the que to receive his portion with the beggars. When Matteo got home the servants looked everywhere for Francis. Eventually Matteo spotted him sitting among the beggars. Matteo hurried out and sat beside him, saying “as you will not join me, I shall join you and eat with you here”. The great banquet was happening at the palace gate!
To finish this invitation, I want to share a quote from Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was a Catholic Priest. Nouwen’s spirituality was greatly influenced by his friendship with Jean Vanier. The two men met while Nouwen was teaching at Harvard. Vanier sensed how lost Nouwen was feeling and invited him to visit the L’Arche community. “Henri had always wondered what a community centred on the Eucharist would be like, and now he had found one at L’Arche.”
Nouwen wrote about Community, it expresses the vision Jesus had of the Kingdom Movement.
Friendship, marriage, family, religious life, and every other form of community is solitude greeting solitude, spirit speaking to spirit, and heart calling to heart…Community has little to do with mutual compatibility. Similarities in educational background, psychological make-up, or social status can bring us together, but they can never be the basis for community. Community is grounded in God, who calls us together, and not in the attractiveness of people to each other. There are many groups that have been formed to protect their own interests, to defend their own status, or to promote their own causes, but none of these is a Christian community. Instead of breaking through the walls of fear and creating new space for God, they close themselves to real or imaginary intruders. The mystery of community is precisely that it embraces all people, whatever their individual differences may be, and allows them to live together as brothers and sisters of Christ and sons and daughters of his heavenly Father.[ii]
Let’s join with the likes of Nouwen and Francis, and all those other strange people who have accepted the invitation to the Great Banquet. Let’s discover the joy of inviting and welcoming people from the highways and byways. For sure there will be some we will feel uncomfortable sitting beside. Some will hesitate to sit with us because they will know we are spiritual cripples.
[i] NT Wright Luke for Everyone, 2004 Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville Kentucky Page 177
[ii] (Henri Nouwen, Circles of Love, 1988)