My daughters received an invitation to attend a birthday party of one of their neighbor friends this week. If you've ever wondered how screams could be collected for energy (see Monsters Inc.), you've never been in the same room when young girls receive exciting news in the form of an invitation. My daughters' shrieks could have powered a small village -- easy.
The ecstatic joy that flowed out from within my daughters let me in on something. We like to be invited to things. It makes us feel loved. It makes us feel like we belong.
Jesus once told a parable about an invitation. It was an invitation not to a birthday, but to a dinner -- and at its core, it was an unusual invitation.
In Luke 14 of the sacred Scriptures, Jesus first tells the Pharisees (one of at least four major schools of thought within the Jewish religion around the first century) that when you give a banquet or a dinner, don't invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so they will invite you in return. No, Jesus says when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.
Jesus is tackling the arrogance and the supremacy that the Pharisees and scribes saw in their separation. The Pharisees and scribes would only invite the people who could invite them back. In essence, the Pharisees would manipulate hospitality for the self-glory and acknowledgment.
The marginalized had no way to do this. If they were invited, they wouldn't accept because they knew they would be required to repay the courtesy and they knew they couldn't do it. It would be too humiliating to ever consent to that type of invitation.
To further make his point, Jesus then launches into a parable with the opening line, "A man once gave a great banquet and invited many." Notice the words great and many. This was going to be a huge event. This is obviously a very wealthy man. The Jews would get this. To be at this party would be the height of the social experience.
When you were invited to a large dinner like this, you would typically get two invitations. The first invitation acknowledged you as an honored guest. The second invitation would come to alert you that the party was about to officially begin.
When the second invitation comes in this parable, we go from the invitation to excuses. Every single person highlighted in this passage said, "I can't come." All of them. The Pharisees would have said, "Nobody would do that. This is disrespectful. This is uncivilized." But in Jesus' story, they all declined.
So the wealthy man does the unthinkable. He tells his servant to go out and get another group of people. He tells him to bid the outcasts to come to the banquet -- the poor and crippled and blind and lame.
In the minds of the Pharisees, the first group wouldn't turn down the invitation and the second group would never ever be invited. But in this story, the master says go and bring them in.
The verb "bring in" in the Greek is important. They would have to be taken in because they would resist. They knew the etiquette -- they would have to pay the master back with an even greater feast. It was an impossibility.
Then, Jesus introduces another twist in our story. There are still seats open at the banquet table. So the master says something interesting. He tells the servant to go out into "the highways, along the hedges and compel them to come in."
The master was saying to his servant that his venture out into the surrounding city was going to be even more challenging. These people don't have homes. They were not permitted in the city. They lived in places like brothels and inns and along the road and in the trees and in the bushes.
That would be like us going to the overpasses, the Section 8 housing, the massage parlors, the meth houses and the prisons to bring people to Thanksgiving dinner at our home. Essentially, the master is saying, "Go to the outcasts of the outcasts and bring them in."
Now, why did Jesus share this parable? Is it that we are supposed to throw parties and invite the poor? Not exactly. There is something bigger going on here.
Jesus is teaching us to be generous with the guest list of our life. We may have to go out and find the people who are broken and hungry -- those who know they don't belong at the banquet of God because of their wretchedness. It may mean we have to go find the untouchables -- those who are spiritually aware of their other ineptness, desperation and unworthiness. When we invite the broken and famished to share their lives with us and vice versa, the "banquet table" becomes our heart.
Jesus says invite into your life people who have nothing to repay you with. This is the biblical doctrine of hospitality: welcoming the stranger. They may not have social prestige. They may not have prosperity. They may not have influence. Many will not have possessions. They may not have any way to pay you back. Invite them in anyway.
On all relational levels, cheerful generosity is the singular approach to sharing our lives with others. Even those who scream at birthday invitations.
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