In Luke 14, Jesus didn’t need to manufacture an object lesson, He reclined at one. Dining at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees created a ready-made on-ramp for talking about wedding feasts, dinners, and banquets and how common hospitality dynamics could point to divine kingdom principles.
One of the guests was picking up what Jesus was laying down, liking what Jesus was alluding to:
When one of those who reclined at table with [Jesus] heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
(Mark 14:15 ESV)
Yup, sounded pretty good. A place where people humbling themselves is valued (14:10-11). A space where all are welcome — not just friends, relatives, and the rich, but also the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind (14:13). Marked by grace, freely sharing the table in anticipation of a table that will be freely shared with them “at the resurrection of the just” (14:14). For sure, “Hashtag Blessed” to get an invitation to that gig.
But Jesus has one more story to tell and it begins with “but.” Knowing the hearts of men and women, Jesus warned that, unless what sounded pretty good was deemed to be counted as the absolute best, it could easily be displaced by other “Hashtag blessed” opportunities.
In the story a man is giving a great banquet. An over-the-top feast. A you-don’t-want-to-miss-it, once in a lifetime event. Says something about the event, says something about the man. Rich, powerful, generous — for he invited many.
Save the date cards were sent out. Ample time provided for arranging one’s schedule around the feast to come. But most of those who RSVP’d that they’d be there because it sounded like a good thing, ended up bailing because they were preoccupied with what they considered to be better things.
“And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But 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.’ ”
(Mark 14:17-20 ESV)
Nothing wrong with investing in assets. Nothing wrong with tending to your business. Nothing wrong with wanting to be with the missus. All good things. But, Jesus would seem to be saying, not the best things when they compete with the kingdom thing of being invited to a great banquet.
The gospel call is an invitation to a feast. What’s more, the message of the finished work of the cross offering a seat at a table in heaven is not just a good thing, it is the best thing. The thing that all other things should be ordered around. Sadly, many weigh it as lesser thing or, a nothing.
The principle continues to apply, I think, even to those who have responded to the invitation and have come to the table. Having come to the table, they grow weary of the table, or take for granted the table, and thus are distracted by good things and walk away from the table. But we need to always value the table even as we keep pursuing our place at the table. Isn’t that why Jesus calls the believers in Ephesus back to the table (Rev. 3:20)?
Excuses. So many excuses. Excuses not to show in the first place. Or leave early in the second place. Or just play around at the table in the third place. Rather than giving the table the preeminent place.
How I need to beware of excuses. Of placing good things above the best thing.
Only by His grace. Only for His glory.