Stories of Us - Parable of the Great Banquet Notes
Stories of Us - Parable of the Great Banquet
Make Me Care
Hi. Good Morning. I’m Nigel. Would you like to grab some sermon notes or a crossword puzzle? They’re quite good and should the Spirit move you, they are fun to fold into paper airplanes and launch from the balcony.
Today is our last sermon in our summer series “The Stories of Us: Rediscovering the Parables of Jesus”. This has been a fun series for pastor Donnell and I work on for several reasons. The most central reason being that we enjoy stories. We enjoy listening to stories and we enjoy telling stories. I’ve especially enjoyed living out my own story; seeking to love my families, champion my friendships, and a pastor at a great local church.
Stories are central to who we are. They shape our histories and they inform our futures. And stories affect us to... different degrees of importance. Some stories we find to be entertaining.
Others are tales are meant to be cautionary.
Some provide us with astute architectural advice:
But the story we’re going to close our our series with this morning is perhaps one of the most significant stories that we have in describing God, humanity, our our relationship to one another. And its going to be a story about food.
The Messianic Banquet
I’m going to spend a bit more time than usual setting up for this morning’s Jesus story because the parable that he shares in Luke 14 has some really deep roots in this picture from the prophet Isaiah. It’s our introduction to the idea of a messianic banquet. “Messianic” is simply a word to describe anything that has to do with the Jewish Messiah. And the Jewish Messiah would be a person who’s purpose was to deliver or rescue the Jewish nation. The Bible’s prophetic writings put strong emphasis on a singular messiah. This is one of those stories that describes the work of the coming Messiah.
The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And re<ined, aged wine.7 And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, even the veil which is stretched over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken.9 And it will be said in that day, “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” Isaiah 25:6-9
Now what we need to do as we dive into the weight of this story is to recall two very important realities about the Ancient Near East’s culture.
First - we need to remember that this was an age before e-mails, chat rooms, Facebook, and long before the printing press.
Consequently, stories did not have to be long for them to be good. Nor did they have to be complex for them to carry significance. And this is different from our way of thinking where we enjoy expect our best-selling novels to be several hundred pages and, if a story is good, we’re excited about sequels, and prequels, and trilogies, and anthologies! Outside of early childhood reading and advanced literature degrees, short stories are relatively unexplored by us today.
On top of that difference, the Ancient Near East was an oral culture. Only the elite were literate and access to written publications were rare for the common person. So consequently, they talked more with one another than we do in our modern culture. And the shorter the story, the simpler it was to remember, and to share, and to wrestle with.
Second - it is helpful to understand that stories such as this permeated the culture and the very identity of the Jewish people.
The story could be compared to our historical narrative of the Revolutionary War whereby we declared independence from Britain and began a new chapter in the history of the United States. The implications of our story may be more obvious to some than others but, speaking as an American, I believe that our independence has been a great gift of the culture that many of us were raised in. Most of us were taught to be hardworking, determined, and that the pursuit of a dream is always praiseworthy. We also know that our historical legacy has left us with some characteristics that are less praiseworthy. Across the board, Americans tend to be really lonely.
Researchers at Brigham Young University published findings in the Perspectives on Psychological Science journal this spring which suggests that 1 in 5 Americans actively struggle with regular feelings of loneliness. And the consequences of that are incredible! The toll of prolonged loneliness on the human body has been shown to decrease average life expectancy by more than 14% which may be linked to the high rates of heart disease and depression that accompany chronic loneliness. The damage, by some estimates is a greater threat to our health than obesity. Just think about that for a moment.... being alone is likely to be more detrimental to our health than Taco Bell! That should wake us up!
So it would serve us well to read Isaiah’s story with this weight. This story is in and of itself truly remarkable to any human being living in the 6th Century BC!
You see, the Messianic Banquet is a story of life and of provision - two things that were not guaranteed in such times. Wars and violence were rampant. Life expectancy was about half of ours today. Child mortality as we understand it would have been through the roof. Death was intimately more familiar to Isaiah’s audience than it is to most of us. So was a lack of excess. Food was never guaranteed season-to-season. People actually murdered their children in these days so that it would rain and provide crops for them. This was a time and a culture that understood desperation. And so this story told by Isaiah about what God envisions for His people is nothing short of incredible. It packs every hope, every dream, every desire at a person’s core into a single. simple. story. And so this story was told and retold for hundreds of years. And not only was this story told, but it was also wrestled with extensively.
When was this banquet going to happen?
Where will it be?
What would life be like if death no longer held us?
What would a world be like where there are no longer tears?
Will I sit with my family at this banquet?
And so on and so on and so on....
Centuries of hope and of speculation surrounding the prophet’s vision. And this story was a story that carried hope, it carried promise, and it carried a sense of inevitable justice against the things in life that are just. plain. wrong. The Messianic Banquet was a good story in difficult times.
Take Me With You
Draws with “What’s The Problem?”
But even the best of news can be lost with translation. Poor translations aren’t unfamiliar to us today. We can find examples all around us.
Sometimes words can be translated poorly like this t-shirt that was printed overseas:
No. No. I do not want your toilet love. Please keep your toilet love to yourself! We also see mistranslation in occurring with symbols:
And there is always potential for epic disaster when communicating with bad information:
Even the best of stories can fall into the trap of misinterpretation and, sometimes, the
consequences are truly unfortunate.
And this, unfortunately, was the fate to befall Isaiah’s banquet story.
Here’s what happened:
Talmud – WAY different.
A significant part in the Jewish nation’s history books was their defeat by and subsequent exile to Babylon. They were permitted to return home years later but while returning from their exile, the majority of people had begun to speak Aramaic as their first language and Hebrew as their second. So naturally, a rough translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Aramaic was drafted and was used widely as an inspired source. These translations in addition to their theological expansions were referred to as the Babylonian ‘Talmud’.
We might compare the Babylonian Talmud to some of the Church’s extra-biblical influences such as sermons and writings by C.S. Lewis, Desmond Tutu, or Rachel Held Evans as common examples.
The translation of the Isaiac Talmud read like this:
“The YHWH of hosts will make for all the peoples in the mountain a meal. And although they supposed it is an honor, it will be a shame for them and great plagues, plagues from which they will be unable to escape, plagues whereby they will come to their end.”
You could imagine that the translation wasn’t very popular... The story shifts from a God of healing and care to a God of destruction, who pulls the rug out on people. So now the stories are in contrast with one another.
There were two other stories which grew in cultural popularity and created a strong shift in the people’s understanding by the time Jesus came on the scene. The first was from the book of Enoch, which was written about 300 years before Jesus arrived. Enoch, who gets mentioned briefly in Genesis 4 is the great-grandfather of Moses. The book of Enoch is considered to be a fictionalized story of Enoch by most Orthodox Jews and is now regarded as an important but non-inspired example of ancient literature.
Other influential stories:
The Book of Enoch
11“...The Angels of Punishment will take them [the unrighteous] so that they may repay them for the wrong that they did to His children and to His chosen ones.12 And they will become a spectacle to the righteous and to His chosen ones; they will rejoice over them, for the anger of the Lord of Spirits will rest upon them, and the sword of the Lord of Spirits will be drunk with them.13 And the righteous and the chosen will be saved on that Day and they will never see the faces of the sinners and the lawless from then on. 14 And the Lord of Spirits will remain over them and with that Son of Man they will dwell, and eat, and lie down, and rise up, forever and ever.” Book of Enoch 62:11-14
So, now instead of everyone being thrown out, the righteous remain while the unrighteous are slaughtered in spectacle before the Messiah and his chosen ones.
“And then the Messiah of Israel shall come and the chiefs of the clans of Israel shall sit before him, each in the order of his dignity, according to his place in their camps and marches.” rejecting those that may be “smitten in his flesh, or paralyzed in his feet or hands, or lame, or blind or deaf or dumb or smitten in his flesh with a visible blemish.”
It was at this point, in Jesus’ time, that the scales had been largely tipped. The Messianic Banquet was no longer good news for everyone, but was good news for the “good people”. The “righteous”. The “holy”. The “obedient”. All others were to be rejected.
What’s the Goal and What Would It Cost?
So now, finally with all of this background in place, we can catch up with Jesus in Luke, chapter 14 where Jesus is about to enter into a conversation about cows, and food, and neighbors, and its going. To Be. Amazing!!!
So quick confession, I’ve been nerding out lately watching Netflix’s newest series on the Marvel superhero, Daredevil. A quote from a recent episode stuck out to me.
Dead Sea Scrolls – Qumran Community The Messianic Scroll
The quote reads: “You don't get to be the man on top without making enemies looking to tear you down.” And with that in mind, welcome to the story of Jesus at this point in Luke’s gospel. If we were to assume that Luke’s account of Jesus was chronologically accurate, then at this point Jesus has become renown for:
Building a large group of followers
Healing the sick
Driving out evil spirits
Teaching w/unusual wisdom and authority
Bending societal and religious “rules”
Raising a dead girl to life
Sharing most things in common with the religious leaders but also dissenting from many of
their popular opinions.
Jesus was at the top. Some, wanted him to stay there. Others wanted to see him fail. Jesus had friends and he had enemies at this point in his ministry. And in Luke 14, we enter into a scene where Jesus is being tested. The dinner starts out like this:
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. 5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6 And they had nothing to say. Luke 14:1-6
Well, already this party is starting off awkward. Have you ever been to a party where no one had anything to say? Yes? Then it wasn’t a party. It was a gathering of human bodies in close proximity for the sole purpose of reveling in confusion and weirdness. Not talking, not laughing, eating silently and awkwardly a party does not make!
So then Jesus takes it a step further. Here’s what I love about Jesus - when everything is awkward he does the most awkward thing that you can do. He talks about something awkward. Is everyone familiar with Abraham Lincoln? No, not the president, the icebreaker. It’s a very simple idea that has gotten a lot of leverage in my life. When something awkward happens, you say “Abraham Lincoln” out loud. The idea is that it would distract from the awkwardness and alter the situation but
Jesus doesn’t even insert a Father Abraham let alone an Abraham Lincoln - He leans into the situation even more and BUILDS on the awkward! The story continues:
7 When he [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:7-14
And so, at this point, a man at the table snaps. He can’t take it anymore. Jesus did the weird thing where he acknowledged a weird thing and, on top of that, he just offered a correction to the dinner host which took awkward to the next level!
And so this man, who I assume at this point wanted to conclude testing Jesus and get out of there, makes this statement: “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God.”
And the trap has been set. Because it was customary at the time to offer a specific reply to this specific statement. It would be similar to how, in our culture, we often ask someone “How are you?” And we typically do this out of courtesy, not out of interest. We expect them in kind to reply, with something like, “Good, yourself?” and then we conclude by saying “Fine, thanks”.
The end. In most settings, it is a custom, not an inquiry. So if I ask a woman at the checkout lane in Kroger “How are you today?” and she replies, “Well, my husband and I got into a big fight last night because my teenage daughter doesn’t seem to be very responsible with the car since we’ve given her a set of keys and I’m legitimately frustrated that my husband is taking it very seriously.”, I’m going to be confused. And I shouldn’t be because I asked a question that could be a perfect lead into her story. But my internal dialogue while she’s speaking is asking, “Why are you telling me this?!”
So the test for Jesus was to see if he would play by a cultural rule. The statement is made and Jesus’ response should have been something like, “Oh, that we might keep the law in a precise fashion so that when that great day comes, we will be counted worthy to sit with the Messiah and all true believers at his banquet.”
The way to be an insider was to play by the rules and identify yourself as an insider while affirming that there are outsiders. And in good fashion, Jesus proudly serves as our Pope of Nope and refuses to go along.
So, here’s one of the things that I find to be consistent about Jesus,
Let Me Like You (Jesus)
What Draws People To Jesus In This Story?
Something that I’ve grown to appreciate: in addition to being a Pope of Nope, Jesus has a constant ability to open us up to new revelations, new perspectives that shape us into sharper reflections of God’s image.
As the trap is laid to test Jesus, he offers a reply that would have been very surprising if not distressful to the party guests. His reply, is a story. And he tells this story:
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” Luke 14:18-23
This parable tells us a lot about God. About His Kingdom. And about us.
Those who had previously RSVP’d, shamefully backed out of the banquet prepared for them, using the worst imaginable excuses. NO ONE would have bought land without looking at it first. NO ONE would invest in working animals if they did not know the quality of the investment. And did this last guy just do a shotgun wedding in Vegas? Seriously?! He didn’t know he was getting married when he RSVP’d? He didn’t even ask to be excused!
It’s no wonder the host was angry. I would have been FURIOUS! And what I couldn’t stuff into my freezer, I might have just dumped angrily into the garbage bin along with the tattered remains of my friendships. What. an. insult.
But the host does something unexpected. This banquet is so good, so valuable, so meaningful that a few rotten replies won’t stop this party. He sends his servant to bring in everyone else.
And that’s because this parable is ultimately about restoration. Jesus masterfully reclaims Isaiah’s vision of the Messianic banquet, inviting EVERYONE back into the promise. It’s a remarkable story in every sense. Jesus failed the test of the religious celebrities but he reclaimed a lost story and gave it new life.
So. Now what do we do with it?
Well, if you’re just joining us today for the first time or you’ve been out and about with summer adventures the last couple of weeks, we’re ending our sermon series on the parables of Jesus today. And, its a funny thing to say out loud that “we’re finished” because the reality of the story that you and I have just read is that it has been more than 2000 years since this story was told and we’re still talking about it. And I think that’s because good stories are powerful. And I think that this parable of Jesus is powerful. But only if we enter into it.
Our approach to narrative, to stories has been to approach the Biblical stories seeking transformation rather than information. There’s no doubt that stories can tell us things. But wisdom has shown us that if we only pursue “the point” of a story, then we risk ultimately miss the story itself.
Once a story has been broken down into bullet points or a checklist of take-aways, the story ceases to be alive. I think that’s one of the reasons why we struggle to take time and actually read scripture on our own.
Because if the Church possesses a “living” piece of literature to guide us closer to the very heart and presence of God, then the reading should go both ways. The scriptures would explore us while we explore them. That’s how you know it is alive.
Introductions are In Order #LiveTheStory
So as we draw to a close, our Practical Tips are designed to invite us into the story, to meet the sacred in a new way, and to decide if our invitation to the banquet is one that we’ll opt into or out of.
First practical tip this morning: Re-imagine the story through the lens of one or more characters
1. Re-read or write out the story from the perspective of the Host, the servant, the excuse maker(s), a poor neighbor, a crippled neighbor, a blind neighbor, a lame neighbor, and/or a traveler.
a. What did these persons encounter? What emotions did they feel? Where did they experience joy? Fear? What decisions do they have to make? What are the costs of those decisions?
b. Imagine the reaction at the dinner after Jesus’ story. Did they get it? Were some people experiencing conviction? Perhaps others were rejectful of Jesus’ reply, labeling him as an “outsider”?
Our second tip which has been thematic in this series: Identify your story in this story.
2. Identify Your Story in This Story
Poor, crippled, blind, and lame
For some of us, we find this is our story because it may describe us metaphorically. We’ve found ourselves blocked or held back from a faith relationship because of our particular restrictions like shyness, fear, anxiety, wounds from a previous faith community. If this describes your metaphor, what would it mean to enter the banquet?
For others of us, these describe our very real, day-to-day realities. This isn’t metaphor. Some of us in our community are sick. We are poor. Or crippled. Or legally blind. Have you concluded that your limitations should exclude you when the host begs to differ? Can imagination be stirred to find your place at the table?
People in the roads and country lanes
1. Perhaps the “banquet” has never been on your radar. Didn’t know about it, didn’t care about it, but something about it is inviting. And more than that - you’re not just invited but you’re WANTED! Jesus told his servant to ‘compel them to enter!’ Something about Jesus, the host, has whet your appetite. Come on in!
3. Inviting Servant
1. There’s the story of the servant, who shares his master’s invitation to all he can find. So what is to be seen through the lens of the servant?
3. Join us in communion today
1. Often called The Eucharist, Communion, and The Lord’s Supper; the symbolism behind us drinking grape juice and eating a tiny portion of bread together is a reminder of our invitation to participate in the Messianic Banquet. It’s foreshadowing that is written into our story. All of us are invited to the banquet. Participating in communion can be a symbol of your acceptance of the invitation, dining in the midst of religious leaders, outcasts, and unknowns as a sincerely welcome and wanted guest.