Yesterday at Weekly Manna (a weekly gathering during the noon worship period at the law school), we had an outside guest as our speaker, the young pastor of a new evangelical church in St. Paul, so new the pastor works at Starbuck’s to support his family.
The text he used as the basis for his remarks to us was the Parable of the Great Feast in Luke’s Gospel. This is the parable Jesus tells in response to the religious leaders, who proclaim, “Blessed is the one who will dine in the kingdom of God.” Jesus knew – as do we – what they intended to convey by their comment, essentially, “Blessed are we, the good and important religious folk who surely have it made, not like the other poor slobs who will have no place in the kingdom.”
In response, Jesus tells the story of the man who gives a great dinner to which many are invited. We are intended to envision here, the pastor suggested, the party of the century. Not, he said a “I have a season of The Office on DVD and a bag of Doritos, so come on over,” but something more akin to a wedding feast. Guests are invited and they all RSVP, “yes,” but they don’t come. One by one, they make excuses. Their excuses weren’t bad as excuses go – the need to deal with business, a recent marriage.
The religious leaders, the pastor suggested, are much like the guests. They say they are going to show up, but they get distracted, they put other things first. Other things become priorities, rather than God. It is not that the things are evil in themselves (they might be good things), but they become so important that they threaten our commitment to discipleship.
There is a tension, one faced not only by the religious leaders who were the direct target of Jesus’ story, but by all of us. We are meant to enjoy the gifts God has given us, but we don’t want to let those gifts become so important that they become god to us. The pastor gave an example of giving one’s son an X-box. On the one hand, the parent doesn’t want the child to toss it aside and not appreciate it. (Some religious folk, he suggested, walk around with dour faces all of the time, enjoying nothing of what God has given us.) On the other hand, if the son goes off with his X-box and completely ignores his parents for the next five years because he is so enraptured by the gift, that is a problem. We are meant to enjoy the gifts we have been given, but not to make them more important than God.
The invitation to life with God is extended to everyone, but not all will accept it.