On this first Sunday of Lent, the text for my sermon was Luke’s version of the Parable of the Great Banquet. It is part of a three beat narrative in chapter 14 in which Jesus, a guest for dinner at the house of a Pharisee, takes advantage of the opportunity to provide some lessons in Kingdom etiquette. In Lesson One, having noticed the jockeying for position and witnessing the embarrassment of those who apparently thought too highly of themselves being ushered to less advantageous seating, Jesus suggests they begin by taking the lowest seats – those belonging to those of least honor. That way, when the host notices, he might move them up, as appropriate. The advantage is clear – they get the benefit of being thought humble and get seated where they properly belong without shame! Win – Win!
Jesus then moves on with advice to his host; rather than inviting only people who can reciprocate with invitations of their own, employ a strategy which welcomes those who have no capacity for repayment! That way, in the resurrection of the righteous, he will receive an appropriate reward. This suggestion meets with decidedly less entusiasm – after all, in the category of competitive dinner parties, who ever would invite anyone who couldn’t reciprocate? Exactly no one!
Some awkward guest tries to cover the faux pas by reciting a beatitude – “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God.” He says this as if the Kingdom of God were still distant and hoped for, rather than sitting at table with them in the person of Jesus – who had announced open access to the Kingdom was now available.
In response, Jesus tells a story of a generous host who did just what none of them would do – put on a banquet of such extravagance that no one could possibly reciprocate. When, however, the notice went out that the banquet was ready – the excuses began to pile up. None of the invited could find their way clear to come. They could not consider attending a banquet that would result in such obligation. The result? None of the invited would taste the dinner – but the dinner would not go to waste because the host and his servants had rounded up those who could never repay.
Jesus uses this parable to describe what is happening – in His coming, the banquet is spread and the invitations gone out. But they, the invited, were distracted to the point of excuse. They were too anchored to the earth to respond to an impossible invitation to the Kingdom of God.
And this is where my Lenten reflection on the day of my death meets the story. I, too, am easily distracted by the busy-ness of avoidance, the business of obligation, the tasks at hand. I barely hear the invitation to the Kingdom. And the simple consideration of the day of my death quiets the background noises – the distractions of the earth – enough to hear the music in the distance. Time to dress for dinner.