Have you ever given a party to which no one came?
There are few situations in life that are more disappointing than putting a lot of thought, time, energy and anticipation into hosting a party or an event, only to have very few or no one show up, leaving us with an empty table.
Jesus speaks to this reality in the second parable he tells about the Banquet. In the first parable, there were so many guests that they were jockeying for position, but in the second one, the table was empty and the host was incensed.
In Jesus’ day, two invitations were given.
The first was the initial invitation and then a second one would come much closer to the actual event. So, those that were invited must have indicated in the beginning that they would be there, but when the servant came and said that everything was ready, they all began to make excuses. Their excuses included work, possessions and family which sounds a lot like what consumes much of our time and attention today.
When only excuses came instead of guests, the host told his servant: “Go out into the street and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” This is the exact same wording as the previous parable in Luke 14. When the servant did that, he came back and said that “there’s still room at the table.” The host then told his servant to go into the highways and along the hedges and compel them to come as well because I want my table to be filled.”
Jesus wants his table filled this Easter when we celebrate his resurrection at Occidental Square.
He wants to know, “Will we respond to his invitation, or will we too be distracted by our work, possessions and family?
Living out the Kingdom of God is both a great privilege and responsibility.
The privilege is that the very One who created us wants to have a party with us. He invites us to his banquet table. The responsibility is that he wants us to choose him above everything else, even if the others are important in our lives.
One of the excuses that may come up for one of us is that we feel uncomfortable going to Pioneer Square, wondering if people will be safe at Occidental Square. We wonder if we will have anything in common with people in the Square or those that are going to come from other invitations, as we gather with people from all walks of life.
The Jews who heard Jesus’ parables felt the same when they heard him say that the host wanted to bring even the most hidden people to the banquet. But, one thing that can’t be denied is that Jesus calls us to be light in the world, to go beyond our comfort zone and to go to where those that he created and delights in will be found.
Laurie Bunnel just wrote a paper about the Banquet for seminary. I love what she writes: “In my local church body, the transformational message of the banquet parable is playing out this Easter through leaving our suburban environment to celebrate Christ’s resurrection with many in the inner city who, just as those along the highways and hedges, would not feel welcome or invited to join the festivities at a local church. Our desire is for them to not only know that they are welcome at our celebration but that Jesus is welcoming and desiring their acceptance of his kingdom invitation.
We certainly don’t have it all figured out, but we are moving in the right direction. When a well educated affluent woman from the Eastside of Seattle and a man who has spent decades living on the street sit together on grungy concrete sharing a meal and celebrating the resurrection, not only are the parallels to the challenges Jesus made to table fellowship in his time remarkable, but the glimpse of the coming Kingdom is magnificent.”