Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Great Banquet.


The parable of the Great Banquet is recorded in different versions by Matthew (22: 2-14) and Luke (14: 16-24) – and it has a vital message for our times.
Luke's version tells of a nobleman who invites guests to his banquet, to find that they all have excuses. One says he has just bought a field and has to go and inspect it. Another says he has just bought some oxen and has to go and try them out. Another says he has just got married and can't come.
In his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey, who lived for many years in the Middle East, points out how absurd the excuses are in the context of the time. No one would buy a field without examining it first to check the quality of the soil, how well it's drained and whether it gets the sun. Similarly, no one would buy yokes of oxen without seeing how well they pull together and whether they are properly balanced.
The third excuse, says Bailey, is the worst of all. Women were spoken of with respect, in a dignified way. To say, as this man does, that his marriage prevents him coming implies he is engaged in sexual activity. It is a terrible insult both to the nobleman and to his own bride.
The public shaming of the rich man was deliberately designed to humiliate him and break off relations between them forever. And, as Bailey says, the master's response is profoundly instructive.
'Insult and injustice cause great anger. That anger generates enormous energy. One of the major contemporary issues is: What is to be done with the energy created by anger produced by injustice?'
The master, he says, has every right to declare his former friends his enemies and to retaliate against them. 'But this is not what happens. Rather, the master creates a new and unprecedented option. He chooses to reprocess his anger into grace... the master uses the energy generated by the anger of injustice and orders his servant to go out into the lanes and streets of the city and bring in the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame.' These are the outcasts, who would normally find no place at the table. And all the ones who would willingly come in had been brought, there's still room; so the master says that others, who had refused the invitation (because, says Bailey, they believed themselves unworthy) should be made to come in. This third round of invitations is extended to the Gentiles, who are now welcome at the Messianic banquet as well as the Jews.
Today, a great deal of spiritual energy has been created by the terrorist attacks we've seen in London. Some have responded with hatred and anger, calling for jihadis to be hunted down and killed. But Christians are called to respond with grace. Yes, the nation must be kept safe, but no one should be demonised or vilified.
Spiritual energies have been released by the UK's general election, too. It sometimes seems as though nothing is too bad for one side to say about the other. But Christians are called to welcome everyone to the table, and model working together for the common good.
And when the present crises are over, there will still be times when we face insult and intimidation and have to decide how to meet it: with vengeful anger, or with grace and overflowing love and welcome. Jesus' parable is for today, because it's about people. It's about how hatred can be reprocessed into love.
Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods Christian Today.