I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love Lent. I love the kneading and prodding, the realization of my own scarcities and needs, wants. I love the expectation that in those holes in my soul–my scarcities and deficiencies–there will be seeds planted, and Living Water sprinkled, and flowers grown. Beauty from ashes.
We all have scarcities. Needs. Some of us are discontent. We’re anxious. We compare ourselves to everyone and everything, and our joy is stolen. We grow bitter. We are sick or in pain, worrying or fearful, lonely or unloved. Selfish.
On Sunday, I heard a great sermon on plenty and scarcity, as we are focusing on “the daily bread” portion of the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray for “our daily bread,” we are not only praying for provision of necessities, but also that God would enter in our scarcities and holey and unholy places and fill us up. As a congregation, we read aloud the parable of the great banquet from Luke, chapter 14. I enjoy hearing the more “worn” passages of the Bible from a different perspective, and this one struck me.
I’ve been taught that the rather narrow meaning of this parable is that the three guests who decline the banquet are simply declining Jesus as Savior (i.e., choosing not to believe Jesus is the Messiah, or electing not to ask Him “into their hearts,” to put it Sunday School style). But as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to such a broader, more beautiful understanding of what Jesus means when he describes the Kingdom through parables.
This one is about being so caught up in your own world that you not only totally miss the Kingdom, but you decline it, thinking you’ve no need for what it has to offer. The people at the banquet and the people who decline represent more than just those who believe in Jesus and those who do not; it’s about people who know they need what the Kingdom has to offer and people who think they don’t.
When the servants decline the invitation to the wedding banquet, they say things like:
“I would, but I just bought a tract of land, and I need to tend to it.”
“I just bought some oxen, and I need to make sure they’re doing okay.”
“I just got married, so I’m a bit busy.”
They are self-involved, full of hubris. They are saying, “I don’t need your banquet.” (Also worth nothing, they’re declining free food and drink, which is just silly. Stupid, some might venture to say.)
When we remember that Jesus is using this metaphor to communicate what the Kingdom of God is like, we realize that these banquet invitees are denying the abundance and plenty of the Kingdom because they proudly believe it has nothing to offer them. They think their own earthly “kingdom” of oxen and fields and yes, even a spouse, is enough. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.) As a result, they miss out on the abundance of the banquet as well as the celebration and joy that goes along with it.
What is a host to do? Well, he invites other people who won’t be so haughty! In fact, some might call them rather “needy” (and we all know how I feel about needy).
“Go out quickly to and bring in the poor and crippled,” he says, “and the blind and lame. We’ve got plenty for them!”
And we don’t hear for certain, but I’m sure it’s a grand ol’ time because the people who show up will not take the banquet for granted.
I like to think I fall into the humble banquet-attenders category. But I’m quite a bit like the first group of folks who foolishly say no and turn to their less important, less abundant things.
When I refuse to acknowledge that all good things have come from God my Father, I am saying no to the Kingdom, whether I know it or not. When I joke myself into thinking I can handle my physical pain or anxiety on my own, I am saying no to the Kingdom. When I actively choose bitterness over joy, fear instead of trust, worry instead of at peace, I am saying no the Kingdom. When I am proud instead of humble, judgmental instead of merciful, sinful instead of obedient, harsh instead of kind, hateful instead of loving… in those moments, I am saying no the Kingdom.
Truth of the matter is, I should definitely NOT be doing that. I need the Kingdom. Oh, I am so needy for the Kingdom.
This is not intended as a self-deprecating tirade but as a realization that I do fall short, and I’m not quite the humble, unassuming, gracious banquet-attender I like to think I am. It’s an important thing for me to realize because otherwise I’ll be stuck tending to my stupid field or walking my stupid oxen and will totally miss the banquet altogether.
The beauty of grace is that it is not fair. The invitation is extended day after day, mistake after mistake, even when I keep RSVPing no. Jesus still wakes me up every morning with another invitation to join him in the Kingdom, the celebration and the bringing of God’s will here on earth as it is in Heaven.
Here’s to hoping tomorrow I will say, “Yes,” better than I have in the past.