August 27, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 14:7-14 (NRSV)
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, 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 the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, 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, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Read all of Luke 14 here.
Confusing and yet overpowering images and implications come out of these parables. All are welcome. Turning down Jesus’s invitation has serious consequences. Forces beyond ourselves compel us towards the love of God. Jesus loves us; this we know.
Years ago I used to have a repeated dream. (This may sound familiar, as I told you about it when I wrote about Matthew 22 several years ago.) In the dream, I was in a large house, or possibly a church—a beautiful old Victorian-Gothic many-leveled church with a stunning sanctuary and an extensive mansion-like activity building. (Two years ago I told you to imagine Christ Church Oxford, but I’ve realized a closer parallel: there was just such a church in my childhood, and I’m sure it informed the dream).
I knew that the Eucharist was taking place in the sanctuary, and I wanted to get to the sanctuary so that I could receive it. The problem was, that I was in the basement. I knew that I was there because all the people who for one reason or another were outcasts had been exiled to the banquet, and in the dream I was one of them. So I began to climb. I went up the stairs; I walked through hallways, I even ascended ladders (there were no ladders in my childhood church—that was a dream invention.) I kept getting closer and closer to what I found myself calling as I journeyed the marriage supper of the Lamb.
I never got in.
Jesus frequently in the Gospels uses the imagery of a banquet to discuss how we should and should not behave and treat each other. In this case, he’s even preaching while he’s eating—he is, Luke 14:1 tells us, dining at the home of a prominent Pharisee, and he is under close scrutiny by the other guests.
When one of those guests responds to Luke 14:7-14 by saying “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Jesus tells another parable (Luke 14:15-24). In this one a king prepares a banquet, the invitees turn him down, he sends his servants out to invite in the poor and lame, and when he still has not managed to fill the hall with guests he encourages his servants to “compel people to come in” (14:23), a verse that has unfortunately been sometimes abused to force people to convert.
A yet more intriguing and rather disturbing parallel to the Luke 14:15-24 story is the one I wrote about in 2020, Matthew 22. There the king prepares his banquet explicitly for a wedding. When the invitees turn him down, he sends his servants out to burn down the city of those who rejected him (!) and then invite in the poor and lame. He concludes by throwing out of the banquet a man—possibly an intruder, some commentaries say—without a wedding garment. (As N. T. Wright once said about a different passage, don’t try that one at home.)
Confusing and overpowering images and implications come at me out of these parables: All are welcome. Turning down Jesus’s invitation has serious consequences. Forces beyond ourselves compel us towards the love of God. Always start with—in a term made popular by 20th-century Catholic theologians—a “preferential option for the poor.” Christ will replace our poverty with his riches, but only if we let him. Jesus loves me. But I’m frightened, too.
When I talked about Matthew 22, I referred you to a beautiful quote from C. S. Lewis’s “Weight of Glory” which pictures the heavenly banquet that awaits us. Today—older, sadder, and more convinced than ever of human sinfulness and our need for Divine grace after the last few years—another quote from Lewis about these stories, a quote about his own conversion, occurs to me. It comforts me even as it terrifies me. Perhaps it will comfort you too.
In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. . . Who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.
How do you know and feel God’s love?
How can you show God’s love to others?
The great German thinker Karl Barth was supposedly asked in 1962 if he could sum up his theology in one sentence; he responded “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” (To read more on the authenticity of the story, go here.)
While I was writing this devotional, that song came on my iTunes shuffle. I can think of none better to reassure us of God’s love. Of course, there are thousands of renditions out there. I am a child of the 1970s and I like this one by the Gaither Vocal Band. Pay attention to the second verse in the context of Luke 14.
Lord, compel me to come in. And then help me invite others in, especially those overlooked by the world. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Humble Service (Luke 9:46-50, 14:7-11, 22:24-30)
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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