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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
When people make excuses, it’s often because they don’t really want to take part in the thing they’re being asked to. You’re invited to a party, but it’s people you don’t really know or don’t like being with, and so you come up with an excuse for why you can’t come. Or a guy asks a girl out on a date. But she comes up with all these reasons why this evening or that evening won’t work. If she really wanted to spend time with him, she’d rearrange her schedule or offer a time that would work. But the excuses are a sure sign to him that she’s not interested. So also with church, people come up with all sorts of excuses and rationalizations. If a famous celebrity or athlete were going to be here, or a beloved friend or a family member that they hadn’t seen for a long time, they’d rearrange the schedule and be sure to be here early. But simply Jesus and His words and supper? Boy, I’m really busy right now. Maybe next week.
In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about some folks who were making excuses. He begins, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many.” This man is God the Father. His supper is the banquet of salvation, the heavenly meal of forgiveness and life. This meal was purchased by Jesus through His death for sin and His victory over the grave on Easter. In fact Jesus is Himself the meal, the Bread of Life given in the Scriptures and in the holy supper of His body and blood. God has sent out His Holy Spirit to invite many through the preaching of the Gospel to come to the feast. All things have been prepared by God; there is no cost or strings attached.
But it is written, “They all with one accord began to make excuses.” They all were looking for ways to get out of this Gospel invitation. They had other things they thought were more important to do. Honoring the Giver of the feast, being with Him and sharing in the joy of His meal just wasn’t something they were all that interested in. It’s the old brush off, “God, you’re really sweet and all, but maybe some other time.”
The first said, “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.” This man is caught up in his property and does not believe that in Christ the meek shall inherit the earth. He seeks to gain the world and in the process forfeits his soul. He sees the value of land but does not desire the priceless land of the new creation. He elects to go and see his piece of ground, almost like a burial plot, showing his destiny to return to the ground in death. Property and possessions often lure us away from the Gospel feast. But we dare never treasure what we have paid for above that which God has freely given in Christ.
The second said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.” This man prefers his work to the work of Christ, who said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” This man is like those who want to produce their own righteousness before God, walking under the yoke of the five books of Moses’ Law, rather than trusting in the righteousness of Christ, walking in the freedom of the Gospel. But in the end they will find no rest. Their labor and struggle will be in vain. The temptation for us is to value our own efforts at good living over and above the grace of Christ. Whenever we think we can do without the banquet of Jesus serving us His Word and Sacraments, we are by definition trusting in our own service and works.
The third said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” This man prized his earthly marriage over the heavenly wedding of Christ and His Churchly Bride. He loved union with his wife more than communion with his Creator. When death parts him from his wife, there will be nothing to restore him to life. So also, we must guard against turning the good blessings of marriage and sexuality against the God who created them, or putting our spouse or family before the Lord. For He said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me.”
Jesus spoke this parable against the unbelieving Jews of His day. They had Him in their midst. They heard Him preach and teach. But most of Israel rejected Jesus as the Messiah and the Savior. They felt no need for the salvation He came to bring. They didn’t think of themselves as poor, miserable sinners, just people with a few minor imperfections. Often it was only the lowly and the outcast of society who believed in Jesus and trusted His words of life. This is what Jesus is referring to in the parable, “Then the master of the house, being angry [at those who rejected the invitation], said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’” “If you people are too good to come to My feast, fine. Then I’ll fill my house with those whom you self-righteous look down upon, those who hunger and thirst for My righteousness. And they shall be filled with eternally satisfying food.”
God will have a full house on the Last Day for His feast. And if those who should come don’t, then many whom you might not expect will–not only the poor and the lame and the blind, but also even many from among the heathen nations will be brought to believe and be saved. In the parable the servant said, “‘Master it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.’” For this meal is given not on the credentials of the invitees but on the graciousness of the Host.
This parable is given by Jesus, then, as a warning to us against being complacent and ho-hum about the Gospel and losing our hunger for the feast. You’ll often notice this when people start saying that they need something more than what divine service offers–something more entertaining or uplifting. They’ll say things like, “I’m just not being fed; this just isn’t doing it for me”–as if Christ’s preaching and His Sacraments are of little value. We always want the attention to be on what fulfills our desires and on what we do. But to the Jews who thought they had heaven wrapped up by virtue of their genealogy and good deeds, Jesus said, “None of those who were invited shall taste my supper.” That should put a little of the fear of God in us. Let us also be on guard against putting our faith in our religious pedigree or our good living. For when we do that, we’ll lose our hunger for the things of God and turn away from the Spirit’s invitation.
Notice that in the end the only ones taking part in the feast are beggars and foreigners. For only they were given to see their need for what the Master had to give. This is what you also must become before God: a hungry beggar, a needy foreigner, like a starving man in a third world country with flies landing on your face that you don’t even have the strength to brush away. You must be brought by God to see that of yourself you are spiritually empty, with nowhere else to turn but to Him. The divine Law must expose your desperate need so that you will crave the Bread of Life. Only then will the great supper be not just one of many other more important things to do. It will be the one thing that you cannot do without, the very source of your life. For the meal is Christ, and He said, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. . . He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in Him.” And if Christ dwells in you, then the sin and death which trouble you ultimately cannot harm you. His presence gives you real life that even conquers the grave.
So take to heart what our Lord’s invitation is saying to you: Do not be afraid. Do not be sad. Do not think yourself unworthy or dwell upon your past sins. They are gone. They are forgiven. If you are weary, heartbroken, lonely, wracked with guilt or uncertainty, hear the words of the Lord when he says to you, “Come to the feast!” It has been made ready for you to heal and restore you. The greatest and the least, the popular and the outcasts, the cool and the uncool, the wealthy and the poor–everyone is invited! Leave behind the love of temporary things. Dwell upon the love of Christ who has loved you beyond all telling. The highways and hedges of this world are not your true home. He has brought you here this day to His House and to His Feast. Come, taste of His Supper.
Our Savior desires that you call upon Him and rest in Him. He wants you here. You are clean and worthy to be with the Bridegroom. He is faithful to you. He wants you to feast, to be reunited with Him, to be full and satisfied, to be without fear and at peace. You are reconciled with God and righteous in Christ. The banquet table is laid before you, His flesh and blood which give you life and the resurrection of the body. Partake of this holy, life-giving food. Fear the Lord, which is to say, love and trust in the Lord with all due reverence. Believe in Christ and be put right with the Father. Receive the foretaste of the feast to come. For blessed is He who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God is here.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠