Once upon a time there was a great man who decided to host a great supper. The man made sure every square inch of his house was spotless from floor to ceiling. He gave orders that the dining table be set with his finest china, crystal glassware, and a centerpiece with exotic flowers in a stained glass vase and unblemished ivory white candles on either side. Meanwhile, the silk napkins were to be folded impeccably next to the shiny, polished silverware.
The man had his cooks plan the menu weeks ahead of time so he could approve of each meal course and as the day for the feast came closer, chefs rushed off to nearby markets to find the freshest vegetables and the ripest fruits and the finest cuts of meat.
There was only one thing left to do on the list. Send out the invitations. On crisp parchment paper with flowing calligraphy. “Wear your best attire and come and join me at my feast!” was the bottom line. Everything was almost ready.
Finally the great man sent his servants out to hand deliver the invitations. The first one went to a farmer with acres of land at his disposal. The second one went to a man who owned vast herds of livestock. The third went to a man newly married. And each time the servant who delivered the invitation waited patiently for a response as the host of the banquet dictated.
It turns out the servants didn’t have to wait long. The farmer read the first invitation and quickly responded, “I have all these acres of land and I have to walk around and survey my property to take measurements and calculate how I want to make use of each square foot. I can’t possibly attend a banquet.”
The man who owned a large quantity of sheep and oxen barely hesitated. “I have all these animals to feed and there’s no one else around here to do it properly if I don’t take care of it myself. I don’t have time to come to a banquet.”
By the same token, the newlywed brushed off the idea immediately. “Well, I’ve just been married and my wife and I are starting a new life together and we’re getting adjusted and making a brand new home. If I’m going to eat a meal with anyone it’s going to be my bride. You want me to go to someone else’s house for a feast? Not a chance.”
So the servants returned to the house owner empty handed, knowing full well they were about to face the master’s wrath. After all, the servants knew their master wasn’t accustomed to being turned down for any reason…much less for a lavish banquet he was prepared to host.
Sure enough, the master heard all the invitee’s excuses and realized no one would be attending his feast. And his initial reaction was rage. But instead of cancelling the banquet, which could have been a reasonable option, the master eventually stopped seething long enough to channel his anger in a more productive fashion.
“Go out again then! Go out to hedge and highway and street and lane. Be as thorough as Noah was when he filled the ark. Persuade every person you can find. I will not tolerate anything less…”
While his servants went out a second time, the master waited patiently near the doorway. And a blind man was the first to approach him.
“Sir, my eyes could not find your home but my nose found your food.” And the master stepped aside to let him through the door.
Next came a man with a disability. “Your house sits on a hill that is high, kind sir. But my one good leg is plenty strong.” And the master motioned for him to go inside.
Soon, a poor woman appeared with a small child in tow. “Sir, I mean no disrespect but if you are willing to engage me in a conversation about why my child is hungry in a world where too many have not enough, we will both come in and be your guests.” The master winked at the little child and nodded at the woman…you are both welcome.
Over time, there was a steady cascade of people, stumbling, jumbling, tumbling, grumbling their way to the front door and it seemed like the parade of guests would never end. Until finally, the last one in line set foot in the house and the servants walked up to their master.
“Are we guests also?” they asked. The great man pondered for only a moment before he answered.
“Do you want to be?”
“Sure we do!”
“Well then you are...I said to each of you that I’m having a feast for all who want to feast with all. And in this house, there is always a banquet available for those who seize it...”
The Parable of the Great Dinner is one of the more vivid parables Jesus told. In our minds we can picture the master of the house, living a lifestyle of the rich and famous with all the material possessions and human servants anyone could ask for.
We can picture the first group of guests on the VIP list, along with the excuses they make. Perhaps we hear their excuses as legitimate. Or we hear them as the kind of small fibs we tell others to get us out of things that feel like obligation. Either way, white lies sound familiar.
We can see the master enraged as his servants returned with no positive RSVP’s. Loud voice, profane words, hands thrown up in the air. Until a new idea occurs to him and he sends his servants out once more. This time determined to avoid the indignity of a bunch of ungrateful, no-shows and refusing to let all the food and the effort go to waste.
And we can picture the guests who did arrive. With walking sticks in hand tapping side to side to avoid bumps in the road. With crutches to support them and wheelchairs to bear their weight. All of them equipped with keen senses and empty stomachs. And a willingness to be surprised by the kind of fanciful dinner invitation they had never received before…
As with any good parable, as with any good story, there is no real ending. Even when the story is over, it’s not actually over. Because good parables and good stories come alive in new ways every time we tell it and every time we hear it.
Like this morning on World Communion Sunday in the year 2018. Where we use our imagination and we hear again a story about a man hosted a great feast and invited people to come and join him around a table. All kinds of people were invited and many of them made excuses. I have work to do and I don’t have time. I have things to take care of and no one else can do it the way I do. I have new time commitments and new stress and new responsibilities and there’s no way I can make it to the meal.
So the host of the banquet heard all those excuses and shook his head. Then he decided to send the invitation out further and wider.
He sent the invitation to people along the Carolina coast and in Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico; places where the flood waters have barely receded and the hurricane damage requires large scale, long term rebuilding. And he extended the invitation even further to people recovering from the massive typhoon in the Philippines, people recovering from the devastating tsunami in Indonesia, and people in Haiti recovering from last night’s deadly earthquake…and he said to all of them. You, my brothers and sisters, are welcome at my feast.
He sent the invitation to people caught in the middle of an ongoing civil war in Syria. He sent the invitation to Rohingya refugees who fled genocidal persecution in Burma only to live now in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh. And he sent the invitation to people in Somalia where drought and disease and malnourishment and the lack of any viable national government have resulted in the deaths of countless children…not to mention adults of all ages. The bottom line for the host remains the same. You, my brothers and sisters, are welcome at my feast.
You may, in fact, hear echoes of the parable of the great dinner in the invitation Jesus offers around the World Communion Sunday table. No matter who you are in the world, come and find a seat. No matter where you reside in the world, you are welcome. If you live in violence, around this table you will find peace. If you live with hatred, around this table we will all sit side by side. If you are hungry, there is more than enough food to eat. If you are thirsty, you will find plenty to drink. Brothers, sisters, friends come and share a feast with me.
Jesus is hosting his own great meal this day. The bread is given for us. The juice is given for us. His love is given to us. And the invitation is open. Around the table, there is always a feast available for those who seize it. Amen.