My daughters received an invitation to attend a birthday party for our neighbors recently. 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 soul-thrilling news in the form of an invitation. My daughters’ hearts could have burst and their shrieks could have powered a small village—easily.
Ecstatic joy flowed out of my daughters so naturally, I felt like I was being let 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 a very unusual invitation.
The Parable of the Great Banquet
In Luke 14, Jesus first tells the Pharisees 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. Jesus instead says when you give a feast, invite the typically uninvited—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
Now, this is counter-intuitive because the Pharisees and scribes felt a sense of supremacy in their separation from those on the fringes. When the Pharisees and scribes would throw a party, they would only invite the people who could invite them back. In other words, the Pharisees manipulated hospitality for their own self-glory and reputation. Parties were about raising your social capital. Only those who could further that agenda were welcomed.
But the marginalized—those on the outside looking into the cultural upper echelon—had no way of doing this. In fact, if they were invited, they wouldn’t accept the gesture because they knew they would be required to repay the courtesy and they knew they couldn’t do that. It would be too humiliating to accept that type of invitation because they did not have the means to reciprocate, so they would refuse.
To further make his point, Jesus launches into a story to illustrate his teaching with the opening line, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.” This was going to be a huge event thrown by a very wealthy man. The Jews would have understood this. To be at this party would be the height of social recognition. In fact, 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.
Now, when the second invitation comes in this parable, we go from the invitation to excuses. Every single person highlighted in this passage says, “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 decline. So the wealthy man does the unthinkable. He tells his servant to go out and seek 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 have been invited. But in this story, the master says go and bring them in. In Greek, the verb bring in highlights that 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. And that would be impossible.
Pursue the Cast Outs and Marginalized
Then, Jesus introduces another wrinkle in his story. Seats at the banquet table are still vacant. So the master tells the servants to go out into “the highways, along the hedges and compel them to come in.” The master was saying to his servant that their venture out into the surrounding city was going to be a unique challenge.
Those they were now going after didn’t even 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, the gangs, and to the prisons to bring people to Thanksgiving dinner at our home. It would have been a scandalous request. Essentially, Jesus has the master say, “I had you seek the outcasts. Now, go find the outcasts of the outcasts and bring them to my party. We have open seats!”
Now, why did Jesus share this parable? Like the master, we must be willing 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. We must be willing to go find the untouchables—those who are spiritually aware of their other ineptness, desperateness and unworthiness. And when we do, we invite the broken and famished to share their lives with us and in turn, we share our mutual, spiritual jaggedness.
In a way, Jesus is showing us here that the real banquet table is our hearts and we must be generous with the guest list of our lives, regardless of the social capital we may lose or the hope we may receive something in return. Jesus says inviting people into your life who have nothing to repay you is the way of Christ. It really is the biblical doctrine of hospitality—the idea of 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 anyway to pay you back. But they do have one thing they can give and it is a priceless gift.
Reaching out to the marginalized will remind you how God went out in the person and work of Jesus to find you in the gutter of your sin and invite you into the banquet of his stunning salvation. It will remind you that God sought you when you did not have a spiritual “home”—when you were spiritually unaware of your unworthiness—and he said “You’re worthy now because I love you.” It’s the only invitation that really matters. An invitation into feasting on the inexpressible hope that comes from belonging to the High Holy One. And it just might make your heart burst with joy.
Brad Andrews is a husband of one, a father of seven, and an advocate for grace. He serves as pastor for preaching, vision, and missional leadership at Mercyview. in Tulsa, OK. He blogs at graceuntamed.com and his articles can also be found on Gospel-Centered Discipleship and Grace For Sinners. He served as a religion columnist for the former Urban Tulsa Weekly and was also one of the ten framers of The Missional Manifesto, alongside Tim Keller, Ed Stetzer, Alan Hirsch, Eric Mason, J.D. Greear, Dan Kimball, Linda Berquist, Craig Ott, and Philip Nation.