Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Invitations (part 3 of 3)

Now, while some look at the parable of the great banquet and see Israel as those that have offered up excuses as to why they cannot attend, and then accordingly see the extension of an invitation to the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, along with a further extension of invitations to those that must be compelled to come in as the invitation to the church, without getting into Jesus’ clash with the Temple and its authorities, it can be said that such an interpretation is incomplete, mis-directed, and quite unfortunate. 

If Jesus is casting Himself in the role of the man that is hosting the banquet, then His mention of the poor, crippled, blind, and lame fits nicely with His programmatic declaration at the synagogue as recorded in Luke’s fourth chapter, which is then worked out in Jesus’ public ministry, as He goes and reaches out to the poor, crippled, blind, and lame throughout Israel. 

Putting the standard and unfortunate interpretation to the side, and plugging in Israel’s defining narrative, it is possible to view the excuse makers as Adam and Eve, with the first round of additional invitations sent out to Israel.  If that is the case, then the second round of invitations are sent out to the Gentiles.  These are the ones that must be urged, compelled, and cajoled to come in (Luke 14:23), especially when considering the fact that (at that time) Israel had been actively restricting the covenantal blessings to themselves, expecting the kingdom of their God to benefit them alone as they are seated at the places of great honor at the expected messianic banquet. 

Though they are most assuredly invited and continue to be invited to participate in their God’s covenantal offering for the world, the Israel of Jesus’ day made it clear to Gentiles that the covenant was for Israel alone.  Accordingly, many were overtly careful to keep the boundaries of covenant identification (circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath-keeping) firmly in place and binding on any that wanted to place themselves in a position to enjoy the covenantal blessings of Israel’s God. 

Is there an over-reach in this analogy?  As is always the case, that does exist as a possibility, but is it necessary to look closely at how Luke presents the second and third rounds of invitations.  First, the slave is directed to go out to (1) the streets and (2) alleys, where he will find the poor, crippled, blind, and the lame---those to whom Jesus’ Israel-focused ministry is primarily directed, and who are the regular recipients of its benefits (think of what Jesus tells John the Baptist’s disciples in reference to His ministry within Israel---“Go tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news proclaimed to them” 7:22) . 

Then, once that is done, the slave is sent to (3) the highways and (4) the country roads, which is where he will find those that must be convinced to come to the banquet, as this would very much be a surprising invitation.  Why does that matter?  Well, in wrapping things up, this study turns to Acts, where Luke continues His story, where he often draws to conclusion things that were begun in the Gospel.  What is to be found in the first chapter?  Specifically, one finds something that could be considered an excellent parallel to the story of the great banquet.  How so? 

The parable of the banquet in Luke fourteen is prompted by an anonymous declaration of “Blessed is everyone who will feast in the kingdom of God!” (14:15b)  So the immediate context of the story is the kingdom of the Creator God, and Jesus proceeds to provide a glimpse into His thoughts concerning the same.  In the course of the telling, Luke presents the directives with the four-fold destination: streets, alleys, highways, country roads.  In the first chapter of Acts, the disciples speak to Jesus and say “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (1:6b), thus providing the immediate context for Jesus’ statement to follow. 

Again, as in Luke fourteen, sharing His understanding of the nature of the kingdom of Israel’s God, Jesus answers by eventually saying “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (1:8a).  To this Jesus adds a directive with a four-fold destination, saying “and you will be My witnesses in (1) Jerusalem, and in all (2) Judea” (1:8b), the streets and alleys, “and (3) Samaria, and to the (4) farthest parts of the earth” (1:8b), which can be thought of as the highways and country roads.  Such is the nature of the Creator God’s gracious invitation.      

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