Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Guest List

Image from:|mt:0|

I have just completed the never-ending task of sending out wedding invitations for my wedding at the end of the summer. This process began mid-May and went through most of June with a few ‘straggler invitations’ yet to be sent out! Thankfully my mom had kept my sister’s list from her wedding as somewhat of a foundation to go off of with a few of my friends and finance’s friends added here and there. The wedding won’t be extravagant in number by any means but one hopes that most people invited will attend! There’s nothing like anticipating a large number of people for any dinner or banquet and then only a handful actually showing up. The RSVP cards tend to be the critical information more so than the invitations because therein lies the expected attendance. After all, you want to make sure that you get a good estimate for the reception. Maybe you even go as far as to put names on tables of expected guests: I am staying away from that because it means more work!
If you haven’t been married before maybe you can relate more to a birthday party or a big get-together or party; who do you think you’d invite? Generally friends and family, some colleagues, and oh, wealthy acquaintances that will no doubt bring a great gift, right!? Would you ever anticipate inviting a homeless man off the street? What about a single mom that lives in an abuse shelter? Perhaps you’d invite the nerdy kid from your Chemistry class in high school? Ok, ok, maybe your boss that nobody likes and drives everyone crazy or the precious, special needs kid that works at the local grocery store? If I could peer out from your computer screen what facial expression would you give me regarding the previous suggestions? More than likely I would get a mixed face, “Dah, ah, yah, I mean I guess if they really wanted to come….maybe,” or “You know, I would just prefer to have people that really care about me or people that will give good gifts!” Ah ha! That’s what I thought: this reaction is and is not ok; ok in the sense that you’re human and selfish and sinful and you have to be honest; it’s not ok in the sense that you’re human, selfish and sinful so you are in desperate need of Christ to redeem this area of your life. You may be asking yourself, “Self, why is Joni telling me who to invite to my wedding, birthday party or get-together; who does she think she is?” This is true. I am not here to tell you who to invite to your next big shin-dig but a passage of scripture really shook me up and reminded me of who the center of the wedding, party or get-together should be about. It also reminded me of a much larger celebration that will be taking place soon when Christ returns and that we as Christ followers should humble themselves when comes to selecting their seats. Let’s read Luke 14:7-24 together shall we? ESV version
The Parable of the Wedding Feast
7Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed(A) how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8"When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place,(B) so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11For(C) everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
The Parable of the Great Banquet
12He said also to the man who had invited him, "When you give(D) a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers[a] or your relatives or rich neighbors,(E) lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13But when you give a feast,(F) invite(G) the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid(H) at(I) the resurrection of the just."
15When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him,(J) "Blessed is everyone who will(K) eat bread in the kingdom of God!" 16But he said to him, (L) "A man once(M) gave a great banquet and invited many. 17And at the time for the banquet he(N) sent his servant[b] to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.' 19And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.' 20And another said,(O) 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.' 21So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in(P) the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' 22And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' 23And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you,[c](Q) none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'"
a. Luke 14:12 Or your brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters
b. Luke 14:17 Greek bondservant; also verses 21, 22, 23
c. Luke 14:24 The Greek word for you here is plural
Cross references:
A. Luke 14:7 : Luke 11:43
B. Luke 14:10 : Prov 25:6, 7
C. Luke 14:11 : Luke 18:14; Prov 29:23; Ezek 21:26; Matt 18:4; James 4:6, 10; 1 Pet 5:5, 6
D. Luke 14:12 : John 21:12 (Gk)
E. Luke 14:12 : Luke 6:34
F. Luke 14:13 : Neh 8:10, 12; Esth 9:22
G. Luke 14:13 : Luke 14:21
H. Luke 14:14 : 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 4:16; John 11:24; Rev 20:4, 5
I. Luke 14:14 : Acts 24:15
J. Luke 14:15 : Rev 19:9
K. Luke 14:15 : Luke 13:29; 22:16, 30
L. Luke 14:16 : For Luke 14:16-24, Matt 22:2-14
M. Luke 14:16 : Isa 25:6
N. Luke 14:17 : Esth 6:14; Prov 9:3, 5
O. Luke 14:20 : Deut 24:5
P. Luke 14:21 : Luke 14:13
Q. Luke 14:24 : Matt 21:43; Acts 13:46

Jesus is sharing two different parables in this passage of scripture however, I think they both relate perfectly to our theme. In the first parable, Christ is hanging out at a Pharisee’s house having dinner. He was being watched closely (Luke 14:1-6) because he had just healed a man on the Sabbath. He was directing his words towards the Pharisee’s in saying (via Joni Paraphrase), “Look, when you go to a wedding feast, do not expect to sit in a place of honor, rather seek a less important place so that when the hosts come up to you and invite you to a higher place to sit, that you will be honored even more!” Christ had this amazing way of teaching humility—especially to the Pharisees, the religious and self-righteous people of the day. We have these people to—we may have even been one of these types of people at some point: thinking we deserve a higher place when we go out to eat somewhere, attend some church event or even at work. Christ is radical in the sense that he calls us to seek the lowest position first. This doesn’t necessarily have to be related to particular event like a wedding but rather just your typical “weekend splurge.” Rather than trying to climb the popularity later by dinning at the “high society restaurant” instead you serve at a local food pantry or mission, pulling up a chair to a table of homeless men and talk about life. We have a lot to learn about becoming last, do we not?
The second parable is related to a “Great Banquet,” rather than a wedding. Christ again challenges the Pharisees to abstain from the typical trend of inviting people that they enjoy being with, friends, family and wealthy individuals and invite the lowly people of the community. These people have nothing to offer you other than their attendance to the feast. The parable transitions into a story of a man who invited a ton of people to his home and surprisingly, everyone he invited made up these excuses to not attend. I thought the excuses Christ uses in the parable are very relevant to today’s society:
(1) I have bought a field and I must go see it! I have gotten something new and more exciting than attending some feast. Maybe it isn’t a field for you, maybe it’s some new boat, piece of technology, a new car or work-related investment that you are excited about. I can spend time with people any other weekend…….
(2) I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them—this maybe more work-related. “ I don’t have time! I have to get this paperwork in before the fiscal year ends or else! Or perhaps its activity driven, “My kids have umpteen soccer games and t-ball games this weekend, I won’t have time to have a meal with anyone, in fact, we’ll be eating in the car!”
(3) This is my favorite excuse, it made me giggle: “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” HA HA HA! AH! Seriously? I mean, I undoubtedly will want my husband’s undying attention with certain “Honey to do” lists that will be created once we’re married. Maybe this guy is also relating it more to the pleasure of being with his wife too! I don’t know the exact angle he is taking with this excuse but all I know is that as near and dear as your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend or family member is to you, they should never trump the unique and amazing fellowship we have with God at the Table.
As the church, we have a tendency to put excuses before the Lord similarily to these guests, “not now God, I know you want me to go on that mission trip but I just can’t take that amount of time from work,” or “I know we should go to that Bible study with the other couples on Wednesday night, but I am just too exhausted and need to just be home for one night,” or “God, can I not enjoy and splurge a little on some entertainment rather than give the money to the church?” The man in the parable just ‘had it’ with the invited guests so he invited anyone off the streets to come and enjoy the feast: the man wanted a full house! The scripture passage specifically says “Compel people to come in.” The ESV commentary says:
“that the Greek word anagkazo means to “compel” or “force” someone, but a number of interpreters understand a weaker sense here: ‘strongly urge, persuade.’ That sense seems better suited for the context and is supported in other examples of Greek literature. The kingdom will be filled, but many of those originally invited will be excluded.”
In an effort to somewhat tie these things together without impeding poor theology, I see it this way: God doesn’t need us to fill the places at His table, but rather, He invites us to join Him. If we decide not to go, it’s our loss and he finds someone else—even if they are “less deserving” in the world’s eyes. I feel that we in America sometimes haven’t the slightest clue what it means to truly humble ourselves and see our actual position in the Kingdom. We look at other cultures across the world and see their efforts of the faith as inferior because their worship is not as civilized as ours, or our ways of studying scriptures at the corner coffee shop as more spiritual than the grandmother reading her children scripture under a bug net in some tropical community. Am I disregarding our efforts in America to read the word as fake and erroneous? Of course not! I don’t care what it takes to make you read the Word or to seek the Lord in your life---but the idea of becoming last instead of seeking to be first comes harder for Americans simply because of the way our culture is structured. Additionally, we make tend to make excuses when it comes to partaking in true fellowship in community. We are an independent-thinking culture and always working towards improving ourselves, our surroundings or current life situation. While we are busy running around, chasing the wind as Solomon states in Ecclesiastes, God is inviting us to join him in an Eternal feast NOW---not when Christ returns---we can enjoy fellowship at the Table NOW! It truly is our loss if we make excuses not to attend.
So, no pressure for those of you that have been invited to my wedding  come if you can! For those of you coming, it won’t have any distinguished place-settings so no need to seek higher positions. My heart’s desire is to make myself last at my wedding, even as the bride so that God may be glorified and for the event to truly be a picture of this passage of scripture. It’s not about us! Don’t make excuses for when God invites you to partake in the REAL celebration! RSVP your attendance today by surrendering your life to Christ!