There is a passionate intentionality about the love of God. It is fiercely pure and uncluttered by any secret agendas or muddy motives. It is there in the first four words of the most quoted verse in the Bible: “For God so loved…”
Where do you put the emphasis in that clause? It has to be on the “so.” His love was (and is) intense. So intense. And the power of his loving issued in giving. It always does. When we love, we give. We give of ourselves. And so does God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16,17)
And the driving intention of that love is the matter of rescue -not judgement. He intends to save the world from itself and for himself.
The same concept frames the narrative in Luke 14, when Jesus, reclining at table “in the hosue of a prominent Pharisee,” tells the story of the Big Party. It comes, like many of Jesus’s stories, in response to a statement made by someone else:
“When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’
16 Jesus replied: ‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.”
18 ‘But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”
19 ‘Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.”
20 ‘Still another said, “I have just got married, so I can’t come.”
21 ‘The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”
22 ‘“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.”
23 ‘Then the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”’ “ (Luke 14: 15-24)
Jesus uses a regular social occasion to make an important point. When you’re thinking through his parables, it’s best to just decide what that Big Point is (rather than trying to get every aspect of the story to fit into a preconceived matrix). And here, the Big Point is up there in the title. “So that my house will be full…” The trauma of invitations given and refused; the added flurry of extra guests and the final “Compel them to come in” all come down to the Master’s insistent statement that these things are done “So that my house will be full...”
It’s rather like the farmer planting seed. A point often missed is the guy’s sheer dogged determination to keep sowing and refusing to give up even in the face of hungry crows, shallow soil and encroaching weeds. Sooner or later, the farmer will have his harvest.
And in the same way, the party will be filled, for it is the Master’s decision to make this happen.
To the first listeners, this was not all good news. Remember that this was a Pharisee’s house, and Jesus had made it painfully clear that the way into the kingdom of God was not through a religious meritocracy. Or through legalistic piety – he had sharply criticised their attitude towards his healing on a sabbath.
And he had looked round at the way people hogged the best seats and made the remark about the last first, and the first last. And now comes this parable….
So whilst it all seems warm, fuzzy and open-hearted there’s another side: it’s seen in the rejection of the first-invited who turned their backs on the master of the house.
So what’s happening in the story?
God has prepared blessing and fellowship for his people. His servants have taken the word of this far and wide. But there are excuses why his people refuse to receive. The first is about possessions: “I have purchased some property.” The second is about work: “I have increased my output-potential [oxen!].” The third is about relationships: “I got married!”
Money constraints, business commitments, family ties -These are regular reasons for struggling with putting God first in my life!
We excuse ourselves and we come to believe the excuses are more important than the thing we once knew was important. We devalue the “banquet” and focus on the effort of our excuses.
So the level of invitation goes up a notch and then again. The master of the banquet fills his party with the least, the last, and the lost. The uninvited.
And this represents the total opposite to the Pharisee’s party that Jesus is currently attending!
Remember his point: Don’t invite people who can return the favour. God expects a different kind of hospitality to be offered because that was the kind of hospitality that God offered.
- God who created a world and made it good for us to enjoy.
- God who made a covenant with his own creation when he didn’t need anything from them.
- God who surrendered his own son to death on the cross to save that same creation.
- God gets hospitality. And he wants us to understand it, too. God wants you to understand that you don’t need to stay outcast, or misfit, or on the outside, anymore. God wants to invite you in because God is always working to make outsiders into insiders.
In John 14:2, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” What can we tell about heaven from that one verse? And what can we tell about this banquet that is already underway and lasts forever?