The Banquet Table is Set
Luke 14:16-24 records the parable of the Great Banquet. The main point of the story is that the invited guests gave lame excuses as to why they could not attend. In the place of the original invitees, the dregs of society are then persuaded to enter into the feast. Jesus concludes the parable by saying that “none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
The banquet is illustrative of a personal relationship. To sit down and have a meal with someone implies a bond of fellowship. Those invited were to dine with the house master and be in relationship.
The Pharisees clearly understood that the parable was intended to present the Pharisees as the ones with the lame excuses. It’s very hard to miss this point. I understood this even as a child when I read or heard this parable taught. The Pharisees missed out on relationship with God because of their limited understanding and hard hearts. They presented lame excuses as to why they would not enter into this relationship.
The connection that I didn’t make until recently is that not only were the Pharisees to enter into this relationship, they were to bring others in also. Isaiah 42:6 shows us that God intended Israel to be a light to the Gentiles. In Exodus 19:6, God tells the Israelites that they were to be a “kingdom of priests” to the world. The nation was to be an example of how and why one should be in relationship with the Creator God. They failed to accomplish this mission and were punished as a result.
Perfect Theology and a Hard Heart
It is very easy to heap condemnation on the Pharisees without making the effort to understand the root of their problem and take steps to avoid following their example.
This past weekend, I attended a block party in Philadelphia which was sponsored by a local church. The crowd was ethnically diverse and the social issues that challenge cities in America were on display. I found myself walking the length of the block party praying for the needs of the people. Interaction with some of the people was an encouragement to me. Some others clearly showed needs that I found overwhelming. Yet, how many years have these problems been going on and the church (myself included) has been largely absent, leaving the needs unmet.
The danger I see in the church is that like the Pharisees, we can dot every theological “i” and cross every doctrinal “t” and ignore the needs of the people in society around us. We can be so caught up in determining the correctness of the teaching that we miss opportunities to minister to those who are most open to the gospel. I know that I can get so caught up in being right that I miss the needs of the people around me.
I’m not saying that doctrine and correct theology are not important; they are. I am saying that we can use our quest for doctrinal integrity as an excuse to avoid the messy business of reaching out to those who most need the gospel. It is possible to have a perfect understanding of theology and have a hard heart. Our theology should drive us to the cross as we understand our own need of a savior. This should result in a passionate drive to bring others into relationship with Jesus. Correct theology should soften our hearts and make us, like Jesus, aware of the needs that God is calling us to meet.
You Have to Have It to Give It Away
Jesus, in Matthew 7:21-23 warns us that it is all about relationship and not about what we know and do. Yet having that relationship will drive us to be willing to be used by God to minister to all kinds of people. I’m reminded of a Muddy Waters lyric that says “you can’t spend what you ain’t got, you can’t loose what you ain’t never had.” In other words, you can’t bring people into relationship with someone you don’t even know.
The emphasis needs to be on relationship first and then on meeting the needs of the people. If we don’t deepen our own relationship with Jesus, we will struggle to give people what they most need. Yet, absence of the drive to minister to people may be an indication of problems with our own relationship with God. I am more like the Pharisees than I would like to acknowledge.
What do you do to maintain awareness of the needs around you and sharpen the focus on bringing people into relationship with Jesus Christ?