One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’ - Luke 14:15-24
The shopping's been done, the food prepared, the wine's in the cooler, the table is set, silver perfectly aligned with the good china, crystal glasses spotless, flowers arranged carefully and not so tall as to block conversation across the table -- seems like everything's set for a very nice, very special dinner party. Whether in a modest house in small-town America or a grand hall in Buckingham Palace, dinner parties have to be planned out and not just thrown together any more than the guest list. A dinner party can make a reputation -- or create an entirely opposite one.
Imagine you've gone to all this trouble for a dinner party and then, at the last minute, people you've invited begin to beg off for one reason or another. You can't always say, "Well, just bring your new bride along," when you've carefully prepared enough for just the number of invited guests, nor can you just take away plates and chairs and spread everybody out a bit more to cover the missing. Besides, it can be very disheartening to throw a party and have everybody be too busy to show up, not to mention it can get very tiring eating the leftovers for a week rather than waste the food.
Jesus throws a shift into the story, just as he does with all his parables. Instead of wringing his hands or bemoaning the ingratitude of friends, the party giver tells his servant to go out and invite people who would probably never ever be invited to such a party, people who were the opposite of the normally-invited guests. The poor, lame, blind, crippled folk would not only not have normally been invited because of their infirmity or their social status but because they could not reciprocate the invitation. To not repay invitation for invitation would have heaped more shame on them than they'd already have to bear because of their infirmities or situations. So they probably followed the servant into the hall with some trepidation. When there were still places at the table to be filled, the servant was set out again to bring in anyone else he found, including, very probably, travelers, tradespeople, maybe even the possible law-breaker. The table had to be full.
God is the party giver and one thing is certain. God's already gone out and invited people to the table, people who might not fit the image of those who would be expected to sit at a great banquet of "rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow,
of well-aged wines strained clear" (Is. 25:6) but they will be there. The thing about it is that those invited are invited without any expectation of their being able to reciprocate the invitation and without being in the least worthy of the invitation itself. But the invitation is there, and God is looking for company. There are places enough for every person on the planet, me included. God's an equal-opportunity partygiver.
You know, I have a feeling that this banquet is one where I won't have to worry about using the right fork for the right dish or that I'm not properly dressed for the occasion. I'm invited because I'm wanted. That's a very comforting thought.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, February 16, 2013, under the title "The Dinner Party."