Luke 14:16-24 | ‘The Great Banquet’ | Divine Service | The Second Sunday after Trinity Sunday | 3 July 2011
How do you normally hear this text? As an evangelism text? There’s always room in the church, so we go out and invite people into the church? I guess that’s true. There is always room for one more in the church, in the Lord’s kingdom, even in here. (And that might mean sitting a little closer to the person next to you.) The Lord’s Church never hangs up a “No Vacancy” sign.
And it’s good that we invite people to church, our friends and neighbors, that we tell them, “You hear the law everywhere you go, come with me to the one place in the world that you hear the Gospel. Come to church.”
But this interpretation sees us as the servants who are going out, calling people into the church. I think there’s a better way to hear this text.
The first half of Luke 14, that is verse 1 until the end of our Gospel reading, verse 24, is Jesus sitting at a meal with the Pharisees. It’s the Sabbath. A man with swelling comes in and Jesus heals him, and then He gives three teachings.
First (Luke 14:7-11) Jesus tells those there that when they are invited to a wedding feast that they should take the lowest place. Then, if the master desires, they will be exalted to a higher place. “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Second (Luke 14:12-14) Jesus instructs them: when you have a banquet invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” “You will be repaid,” says Jesus, “at the resurrection of the righteous.”
This is a very important point, and we’ll pause for a minute here to talk about the danger of good works. I know that sounds strange, but good works pose a great theological danger because, more than anything else in the world, we are tempted to think that good works save us. You know what I’m talking about? If you ask the average person on the street if they are going to heaven, they say, “Sure, I’m a good person,” or, “I try hard to be good.” Good works, then, replace Jesus as Savior. See?
Now we Christians know that we are saved by grace through faith, apart from works so that no man may boast. But still good works try to sneak in the back-door and sit in the chair that belongs to Jesus, and that sounds something like this: “Jesus died for your sins. What are you going to do for Him?” Have you heard that before, that kind of preaching? I’m sure you have. I pray that you would never hear that from this pulpit. I don’t know of a worse kind of preaching, a worse abuse of God’s grace, as if the Gospel had conditions; as if there were strings attached, as if the Lord gave us salvation as a loan to be repaid. This kind of preaching turns the Gospel into a bribe, into manipulation, into abuse.
No, says Jesus, the people that come to His feast are people that cannot repay; that’s who He wants. Dear saints, you never were and you never will be good enough for Jesus. You live by mercy, always.
Good works are good for your neighbor; do them for them, not for God.
That is the second teaching of Jesus, eating at the Pharisee’s house, and after this a pharisee says with pious sounding excitement, “Blessed is the one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” This Pharisee is sitting across the table from Jesus and he says, “Won’t it be great, some day, to eat bread with God!” The kingdom of God was right there with them, sitting in the same room with them, and they were missing it. This is the context of this parable.
And Jesus answers this Pharisee, this one who is so ecstatic about eating in the kingdom of God, and He says, “I’ll tell you a story of a feast, a great feast. None of the people who were invited came, none tasted the banquet. They all had excuses. So the master went out and invited people from the streets, the poor and lame, strangers and travelers. People who were hungry and poor, people who could not repay.”
And now we see that this parable is a warning, a warning to the Pharisees, a warning to the world, a warning to us, that we could miss this banquet, this feast, the kingdom of God. And how? By being too good.
If you are well you don’t need a doctor.
If you are full you don’t need a feast.
If you rich you need no one’s generosity.
If you are righteous you don’t need repentance.
If you are good you don’t need a Savior.
If you are holy you don’t need forgiveness.
See? If you are satisfied with yourself, the feast of the kingdom of God could be sitting right across the table from you, and you miss it.
You see, we are not to find ourselves in this parable as the servants going out calling people to the feast, we are to consider ourselves as the ones invited, the ones mercifully invited, the poor and the crippled and the blind and the lame. That’s you, a poor, miserable sinner, feasting on the richest food of heaven, feasting on the love and mercy of God, feasting on the forgiveness of your sins, feasting on the very body and blood of Jesus, given for you, not because you are good enough, and not because you can repay, given freely because Jesus loves you, and dies for you, and keeps you as His own. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO