Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Invitations (part 1)

…The the master of the household was furious and said to his slave, “Go out quickly to the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”  Then the slave said, “Sir, what you instructed has been done, and there is still room.”  So the master said to his slave, “Go out to the highways and the country roads and urge people to come in, so that my house will be filled.” – Luke 14:21b-23  (NET)

In Luke fourteen, Jesus tells a parable of a great banquet.  A man had planned the event, invitations had been sent, requisite preparations had been carried out, and food and wine had been prepared in accordance with the number of people that had accepted the invitation.  Though it is not necessary to take up space setting up the context for this banquet, what can be seen, contextually, is that this parable of the great banquet is set within Jesus’ own attendance at a meal to which He had been invited.  Jesus’ presence at a meal closely follows His speaking about, in chapter thirteen, the great messianic banquet that will be hosted by Israel’s God. 

Luke, as an excellent story-teller within what is a culture that communicates its stories primarily in oral/aural fashion, builds on that which comes before, and never leaves Jesus’ words unexplained.  This, of course, is why one can never look at portions of the Gospel in isolation, and why, in order to have any authentic and plausible meaning, the stories in each of the Gospel narratives must be understood in relation to the multiple layers of narrative on offer as part of the whole.    

Rather than get into interpreting the details of the banquet or even explaining the nuances of the story, this study will attempt to place the banquet within Luke’s narrative of Jesus, which stretches past the Gospel that bears the same name, and on into the book of Acts.  When considering the nature of story and always realizing that details offered up early in a story will have bearing upon or come to fruition later on in the telling, one must be mindful that Luke sometimes brings resolution to a statement from Jesus within Acts, rather than neatly tying things off within the first half of his two-part series. 

As this is done, this study will also consider the mission of Jesus as presented by Luke, bearing in mind that the mission of Jesus is defined by the situation within the covenant God’s creation, and within the Creator God’s plan of redemption for His world as it is being enacted and carried forward by the people of His covenant.  To this end, as one hear the parable of the banquet, the hearer/reader  should be able to find points of contact with Luke’s ongoing presentation as well as the whole of the Biblical narrative, which of course gives shape to Jesus’ own mission.     

As Jesus opens the story, all indications are that the banquet is ready to commence.  However, something strange and quite unexpected happens.  Those who had been invited and who had accepted the invitation, fail to follow through on that acceptance.  Instead of coming when summoned, all begin offering up excuses as to why they cannot now attend.  One says “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it” (14:18b).  A second says, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going out to examine them” (14:19a).  A third says, “I just got married, and I cannot come” (14:20). 

Now, without dwelling on the implausibility of the excuses (these excuses would have been laughable in the ears of Jesus’ audience), which is what enrages the spurned host, it is necessary to add that it seems as if the point being made is that all that were invited made excuses, and therefore were not going to be attending.  Rather than retaliate, as Jesus’ hearers would have expected the enraged host to do, especially in a culture defined by honor and shame, the insulted party-thrower re-directs his wrath and re-extends his invitations in another direction. 

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