Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read.
I was looking through some files on my computer this week when I came across a file of a handout from when I was an RA in college. You see, as an RA in the dorms, we had to undergo certain additional training, and one session I attended was on the topic of sexuality and religion. This was a session facilitated by the campus ministry, which made the issue that much more frustrating. To begin the discussion, the leaders—again from the campus ministry—distributed this handout. It’s title: “True or False? The Bible Says… Quiz.” Sound innocuous, right? Isn’t it good for us to have some trivia about what the Bible says as we’re going to talk about religion and sexuality? If that were all, that would be one thing. Even if the intent were to lay out the really hard things the Bible says about sexuality and sexual ethic it would be challenging. That is, after all, Law, and the Law brings guilt to each and every one of us. For example, when Jesus speaks of not even lusting after someone or they’ve committed adultery, it’s clear that far more than a super majority of humans stand condemned. But no. That wasn’t the tack. The tack, even more deviously was to utterly undermine any authority the Scriptures would have to speak on any topic, period. This was done by questions like, “The Bible contains only one story of creation, and it is the book of Genesis.” Which they said was false, because they counted Genesis one and two as two separate accounts of creation. Then there were questions that actually weren’t about what the Bible said at all, “The anti-Semitism documented throughout history and most tragically demonstrated during the Holocaust of Nazi Germany has been justified using select passages of the New Testament.”
I’m sure you can see the connection, right? If the New Testament can be undermined then we don’t have to take into consideration its teaching. It doesn’t matter that Hitler wasn’t a Christian, that He was actually Anti-Christian and persecuted faithful Christians who spoke out against the Third Reich. No, it’s better to show how people that that very Bible calls sinful and broken misuse its words to justify terrible and sinful things than to acknowledge what it teaches. And as I say that, let that be a warning to us to be careful in our reading of the Scriptures. It can be easy for us to think we are justifying something good when we aren’t by its words. On the flipside it can be easy for us to despair of being able to find the true meaning as we look at how it is misinterpreted. But as I say that, at a point we trust that the Holy Spirit humbles us before even the hard sayings, and that He leads us as we study passages, interpreting one by another and examining the context in which these things were written to understand them. It’s also part of the reason God gave the Pastoral Ministry. That’s not to say you can’t read the Bible on your own, you better be reading it on your own—we are Lutherans after all! No, but it’s to say that God has placed it especially upon me—by His Grace—to study and know what these things mean. But I digress. Coming back to the undermining of this authority, we then say, why would this happen? Why would they seek to undermine the Scriptures?
Well, in part because the world is always going to be opposed to this Word. As Jesus describes how the world hated Him and so it will hate us, we should never be surprised. It shouldn’t surprise us that the “tolerant” environment that we live in would be intolerant of the teaching of the Scriptures which challenge so many views in the world. It shouldn’t surprise us that the Word that teaches that our salvation is not by our own goodness, but by the mercy and goodness of the God who is so loving He sent His Son into the flesh of man, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God to become man that our sin could be crucified in His death, that this Word would not be tolerated. It shouldn’t surprise us that the sinful world does not tolerate the revelation of the God who calls them sinful, who calls them to repent, who calls them to His mercy. It shouldn’t surprise us at all because we should see in our own hearts that very rebellion that is tempered by the mercy of that God through the grace of His Holy Spirit.
All the more, that shouldn’t surprise us because as we read this passage, that’s exactly what we see. We see how this world goes about making excuses constantly. Look at what happens. There’s this man who’s having a feast. He sends out the invitations, he prepares the meal. Then he sends out the servant to let everyone know the feast is ready. And what happens? Jesus says, “they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’” They all began to make excuses. Literally in the Greek it says, “And they began from one all to make excuses.”
Now some of those excuses seem pretty good. In fact, they’re even mentioned in the Old Testament as valid reasons not to enter military service. You don’t have to serve if you are just married. You don’t have to serve if you bought land and haven’t overseen the harvest of its fruit. But what’s the point? We make these excuses, don’t we? And you can hear the connection from my training, can’t you? The Bible has been used to justify evil things, I won’t believe. The Bible doesn’t explain the world how I’d like to understand it, I won’t believe. Jesus says that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that no one comes to the Father but through Him. I won’t believe that.
And what is your excuse? The Law isn’t for us to apply to those people out there, it’s for us to apply to our own hearts, so what’s the excuse you make for not hearing the Word? For not learning it? What’s your excuse for not “coming to the feast?” Or what is your excuse for doubting so that you are in essence hemming and hawing about the invitation? Do you question God because of the evil you see in the world? Because of Coronaviruses and suffering and illness? Or because of Hitlers and Stalins and Zedongs?
As I ask that, we have to make sure this whole conversation is ultimately one that resounds in sympathy, don’t we? I’m sure it’s not sounding like it as I have been speaking to an extent, but we have to be sympathetic. When we look at the suffering we see, when we look at the evil we see, in human terms we can understand why God’s goodness is questioned. We can understand with how hard things are in the Bible to understand why God’s goodness is questioned. To be sure, God is God and He doesn’t owe us justification of His actions, He doesn’t owe us justification of how He works, but in the doubt and brokenness of sin we can understand how people wrestle with these things. But what I realized with this passage is just how sad this should make us.
Now as I say that you might wonder why this passage of all passages would sadden us so. After all, look at last week when we spoke about mercy and about the suffering we saw with the rich man. Why with that, bring this sadness up now? Because of the way this passage makes it clear that the host of the feast—which if it isn’t obvious represents our Father in heaven—it makes it clear this host wants the people to come!
Look at it. To start, look at the call of the servant: “at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.” Those of you who have been able to watch the devotions I’ve been posting may recall that I mentioned there that the Greek could be translated to say, “Come, already prepared it is!” Now that’s a subtle difference, but hopefully you can hear my point. Sure the point is it’s ready, it’s ready for them come eat, but you see the encouragement of those words, “it’s already prepared.” You can hopefully hear it, “Come on in! The host wants you to come, it’s already ready for you! It’s prepared for you now to come enjoy! Please come enjoy!”
Then, there’s more. When the people don’t come, what’s the next step? Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame. God wants us at His banquet. He knows just how poor, crippled, blind, and lame we are in our sin. He wants to help us in that state. He wants you to understand that your sin is taken away from you in Christ. It’s washed in your baptism and placed in His tomb, crucified in His death. And so He wants you there. He wants the people to come.
And it continues when that invitation is extended: Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in. Compel people to come! The host, our Heavenly Father, wants people in so much He’s telling this servant to compel people. This is interesting because this word here is the same root as the word that spoke of the necessity to go out and see the field that was just bought. It’s the same necessity. You must be there, come! He wants you to see that necessity! Why? Because in His goodness He wants to share His feast with you!
Then finally, He says, “that my house may be filled.” That my feast may be full. He wants the people there so much, He wants it filled up. This is good for us to hear when we’re speaking about why people don’t come. It’s good because it makes us realize that the rejection isn’t on the part of God, it’s on the part of people. Sure some of the excuses might seem valid, but ultimately the call is the same for all—“pick up your cross and die to your sin because it’s bad for you, and come to the feast because it’s good for you. I want you there because I love you.” And on an individual level, then we can hear the ways that we have fallen short of His commands and realize that He wants those forgiven. That’s why He sent Christ. If we reject that promise of His love and goodness, it’s not His fault, it’s ours.
In other words, as we look at a world which will make handouts undermining the authority of the Bible, as we look at the excuses that people make for denying the faith, as we look at our own doubt and sin, we see something. We see that we all make excuses and we see this is sad. It’s sad, because God wants us at His banquet. In His love, He wants us there. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Christians, cast off that sin, your excuses, because God in His goodness is calling you to His feast. Hear that call and know that feast will be better than anything else you could think of. It will be good, because He is good. Amen.