Week of Oct. 4

The Right Guest List

Read: Zechariah 10-12; Psalm 126; Luke 14

“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.”
Luke 14:15b, ESV


Who do you invite to church table fellowships? I recall an occasion where a church that I served held a semi-formal banquet. The setting was warm, and the church members were in a banquet mood. The room was filled with the scent of lovely food, as well as laughter and conversation among the guests. An unexpected entrance occurred, however, when a homeless man walked in off the street in search of help. I imagine that you have experienced something similar in your church.

There was an awkward pause across the room as people, having been caught off guard, struggled with the best way to respond. Church members sized up the immediate need and moved quickly to get an extra plate filled in the kitchen, while I simply invited the man to sit at my table. My gesture was met with smiles of approval across the room, and the banquet continued. I thought that we had risen to the moment, which in a sense we had, but there was likely much more that I never considered. Let’s examine our passage today to see what that might be!

A Biblical Lens

This section in the wider "journey" narrative in Luke offers us a picture of the kingdom banquet, but we should not separate it from its wider context. It is linked to the prior narrative which forms the backdrop to what we read in 14:1-24. The healing of the man with dropsy (vv. 1-6), meal “protocols” (vv. 7-14), and banquet invitations (vv. 15-24) form a complete unit (NIC). The fact that the events take place on the Sabbath, in a Pharisee’s home, and over a meal provide the indicators of the unity in this chapter. The extra seasoning, so to speak, is the hostility of the religious leaders toward Jesus. Got it? Good!

The social nature of meals brings to my mind the warmth of community. How about you? Pleasantry was certainly not on the menu at this dinner engagement. Luke intends for us to see deeper than the outward appearances in the room. The religious leaders offer us a look at the type of people who will not meet kingdom requirements. These leaders invited the “in group” to dine with them, but Jesus was noted for sharing fellowship with tax collectors and sinners (5:29-32; 7:34, 36-50). The former people were interested in external purity, but Jesus was interested in personal fidelity (See 14:2-3).

This meal setting, then, becomes an occasion where Jesus shows the socially elite the rules for participating in the community of God’s kingdom (NIC). Take a glance at the parable in verses 7-11 where Jesus says, “when you are invited to a meal...do not...lest...” and notice that the same formula appears in verses 12-14. The point is that the haughty will be made low and the humble will be exalted in God’s kingdom. The point that Jesus was making becomes clear across the entirety of the chapter. People jockeyed for invitations to such events based upon human requirements. It was not the invitation that was critical. Kingdom of God banquetings require a different type of guest than we typically consider.

A Moral Pathway

I am invited annually to attend another banquet in Arlington, Texas, that is hosted by Mission Arlington. Their Christmas banquet guest list, like the church I mentioned previously, includes any and all who will come. They answer appropriately the question, “Who do you invite?” Everyone! I see community and religious leaders in attendance, as well as people who literally arrive at the Mission that very day out of food and with no place to stay overnight. The food is wonderful, and there is laughter and lively conversation all across the room. The Christmas theme about Jesus’ birth permeates the music and the short program, but the overwhelming message is about new birth in Christ. All who gather are called to bend their knees and bow their hearts to the Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

The moral question in our passage helps to pinpoint what I missed all those years ago when a homeless man appeared unexpectedly at a church banquet. The probing question is not “Who do you invite?” but “Who does God accept at his kingdom banquet?” The former question was answered accurately with “everyone” that night because we were that type of church. Our fellowship was inviting, but Jesus would have to search our hearts to see if our fellowship was “life-altering” and “values-transforming.” I failed to recognize the importance of tying that banquet to the eschatological (i.e. end-time) banquet guest list (14:21-24). I will not make that mistake again. Make sure that your name is on the right guest list. You are assured a seat at the great banquet table if your faith grows out of a total life reorientation to the purpose of God (14:25-35).

For Your Journaling

1. Search your heart carefully to see where your true soul security lies. Does it rest in your family heritage, church membership, or social status? Or, does it rest solely in your dependence upon God’s mercy and forgiveness?

2. How well does your church tie its activities to the end-time Banquet? In other words, is there a clear awareness that new birth will be followed by a radical reorientation of interests to the purpose of God and a corresponding change in values that matches that commitment? What changes might you put into place to attach your kingdom work now to a palpable longing for the kingdom to come?

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock