To many who follow Jesus this is a familiar parable. Jesus had been invited to dinner at the home of a leader of the Pharisees, a dominant religious sect of His time. At one point he tells a story about a great feast. The host had sent out many invitations, but everyone who had been invited, when told the feast was ready, came up with excuses why they could not attend. The host then commanded his servant to invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame“, but there was still more room. So the host ordered his servant to go out and find even more people to attend the feast. Look in places where the servant had not looked the first time, was the message. The servant did as he had been instructed.
The study notes for The Meeting House Home Church studies that week asked this question: How do we translate this into our situation today in 2017? I don’t think we really unpacked that answer at the table at which I was sitting that week, so I am going to take this opportunity to do so now.
I believe this is entirely consistent with Christ’s fundamental kingdom ethic of reaching out to the orphans in our society. Orphans are usually people who have no voice, no power, no place of prominence or status. They are not leaders, nor are they ever considered for leadership. They are the broken, the disadvantaged, the unfortunate people who existed on the benevolence of the rich and the powerful. They are people who make for lively discussions, but when confronted with the homeless person on the street, or the lonely single person in our churches, we divert our glances, change the subject, or walk away. These are the people we “pray for” on high holidays, but who often spend these days alone remembering better times.
The same people Jesus wanted to invite to His banquet are among us today. I think one of the delusions about living in a wealthy country like Canada is we don’t recognize the impact of first-world poverty. It is a different kind of poverty than that of the third world, but the social impact on people living in poverty I believe is much the same. I am a person who lives well below the poverty line in Canada, but I live in a nice area of Oakville. I feel the disparity between people I consider to be wealthy and myself. Sometimes I can’t quantify it, but I know there is a difference between myself and the person sitting next to me. I know there is a difference between how that person sees the world and my perception of it. At times, I catch myself making value judgments about people I do not know.
What does the parable of the banquet look like in 2017? In Canada, Thanksgiving is next Monday. If Christians at my church were to put this parable to practice in real life, there would be no single people sitting at home watching television marathons and eating frozen dinners. They would all be celebrating Thanksgiving with families or couples who are hosting a dinner for people who have nowhere else to go. Many years ago I attended a Bible school in Texas. I was there for an American Thanksgiving and wound up going to three different homes for Thanksgiving dinner on the same day. I was younger and could eat a lot more in those days. I was also there one Christmas when a family invited me to join them for Christmas Day. I got there expecting to participate in the joy of watching this family unwrap their gifts when someone handed me a gift. It was a tie. This was the spirit of Jesus’s banquet. About thirty years ago an elderly man named Charlie, and his wife, hosted a Christmas dinner every year for homeless people living in downtown Toronto. They lived in upscale Etobicoke in a nice home, but that one day they opened their home to the people Jesus described in this parable. It may not be safe in our day and age to open our homes to random strangers, but I believe there are other things that Christians can do to fulfill the spirit of this parable. One day a man I did not know bought me a cup of coffee at a coffee shop. It was a random act of kindness. I had never met the man and I never saw him again, but he definitely brightened my day.
Our lives are littered with opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the people around us. We glorify the spectacular opportunities to impact someone’s life. Many years ago I came across a saying: Great opportunities to serve God rarely come. Small ones surround us daily. The font for the first sentence was huge. The font for the second sentence in that saying was so small you could barely read it. Perhaps all you can do is offer someone a cold cup of water, or a tissue to wipe away a tear. I believe the spirit of that parable wasn’t the feast, but the fact that the host reached out to people he may have ignored in the past and welcomed them into his home and fed them.