The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
It’s clear from this parable that God does NOT condone excuses. In fact, God’s anger burns hot against excuses. Now, at this point we could easily turn this into a fire-and-brimstone sermon on making excuses for staying away from worship and despising God’s Word and sacramental gifts. We could do it, and we wouldn’t be wrong. Despising God and His good gifts is a sin, plain and simple. Putting our plans and our desires (our worries and anxieties) ahead of God and His good gifts is the very definition of idolatry. Our almighty God and King invites His beloved to His feast each and every week, and yet we always seem to have our reasons and our justifications for staying away.
But… is this why Jesus told this parable? In a word, no. If you remember, Jesus was speaking this parable to the table of Pharisees He was eating with. It was a “business dinner.” They would eat and feast while asking Jesus questions. Jesus was teaching over dinner. In fact, Jesus had just finished doling out the wisdom of humbly taking the lowest seat when you go to a feast. He also taught on the praiseworthy merciful act of inviting to the feast, not those who will simply reciprocate, but those who cannot repay you; i.e., the poor and lowly. This is when one of the Pharisees at the feast table rejoices in the wisdom of Jesus, responding with a joyous beatitude of his own. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Amen, right? There is nothing wrong with this statement. In fact, we should probably rejoice over these words. Finally! The words and teachings of Jesus seem to be getting through to these guys!
But then verse 16 brings us back to reality. This guy makes such a beautiful statement about eternal life in heaven, which causes Jesus to respond with this parable. And make no mistake: Jesus teaches this parable precisely because the guy doesn’t properly understand salvation. He doesn’t get it. We can say this with all certainty because St. Luke tells us, “But Jesus said to him….” “But” – That word cues us in on the fact that there is a problem with what this guy just said. The guy speaks, BUT Jesus says to him…. Understand: Jesus isn’t affirming this guy’s statement at all! Quite the contrary. He’s correcting him.
This leads to the big question: WHY?! Why would Jesus correct this guy, especially in front of everyone else at the table? For starters, Jesus knows the heart. Yes, there’s nothing wrong—technically—with the words this guy speaks. And yet…it’s clear from Jesus’ response that this guy doesn’t understand. This guy is wrong, and the fact that this guy is so public with his error means that Jesus necessarily has to make public correction. After all, you don’t want anyone else thinking that Jesus approves of this error or falling prey to this guy’s error.
But if the words the guy speaks are technically correct, then where is the error? The error is found in who this guy understands “everyone” to mean. This guy thinks that “everyone” means (only) all good Jews, who by virtue of their kinship to Abraham and their good works and observance of Torah, will have their (rightly-earned) spots at God’s eternal feast of heavenly manna. More than this, the whole table of self-righteous fools refuses to believe that Jesus is the one and only Way of salvation; i.e., the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They think (and teach others) that Jesus has nothing to do with God’s heavenly feast.
This is why Jesus teaches this parable. Yes, everyone has been invited to the heavenly feast, BUT…not everyone will be at the feast table. Some will have “better, more important” things to do. They’re too busy for Jesus. Some will simply not accept the invitation. They come on their terms or they don’t come at all. They know better. (Hmm… sounds like idolatry, doesn’t it?) They don’t like the way the master of the feast does things, so they’ll show him! They’ll boycott and stay away. In their proud minds their absence will utterly ruin the master and His feast. That’s how important they think they are. (Thank God such behavior doesn’t exist in congregations today, right? [sarcasm definitely intended!])
Jesus, in a very loving and patient way, is showing these guys that they really don’t understand how God and His gracious gift of salvation works, and their misunderstanding is putting them in grave danger of being locked out of the eternal feast; shut out into eternal darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus ultimately teaches this parable to point these proud fools to Himself and the salvation that is found only in/through Him. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
And that leads us to the final point that Jesus makes in this lesson. “I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” So often we understand this to be words spoken in anger; words of vindictive punishment. “I’ll show them! They’re not getting into my banquet!” I guess we can’t really be faulted for this understanding. After all, this is how the world works. This is how we would certainly handle such blatant disrespect and hostility, right? You hurt me, and I’ll hurt you right back! Folks: These aren’t words of vindictive anger. This is a statement of fact. The fact is that those who deny and despise the Father’s gracious invitation and His gifts will not taste His banquet, plain and simple. They’ve shut themselves out. The only reason they’re not at the feast is because they’ve rejected it. It’s NOT God’s fault that they’re not there. Because of their own arrogant pride and self-righteousness; because of their utter lack of humility and repentance, they will not taste the Master’s feast. It is what it is.
Now, again, we could easily slide into discussion on despising God’s Word and Sacraments and then offering up sinful excuses for doing so. Like I said, we could do it, and we wouldn’t be wrong. But like I also said, that’s not the main point of the parable. The main point/focus of the parable is Jesus, our fount and source of salvation; our bread/feast of life. So… rather than focus on how we transgress the Law with our deeds and our excuses, let us instead focus on the One who fulfilled the Law—perfectly—in our place. Let us focus on the One who didn’t make excuses for our sins, but instead took our place and paid our deadly wage, paying it in full with His own holy and precious lifeblood.
I want you to think about that for a moment, because it really puts our Lord’s feast table into proper perspective. Who deserves to be at the table? No one! Not one single person borne of Adam rates a seat at the feast of our Lord! We only deserve present and eternal punishment. That’s it. (A little side/historical note: When Martin Luther died, they found a little scrap of paper in his breast pocket; a scrap of paper he carried with him all the time. On that little scrap was inscribed “Wir sind allein bettler,” which translates “We are all beggars.”) It’s true too. We deserve nothing from our God and Lord, which is why we cry out in repentant faith, “Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Not for my sake, but for the sake of the bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Forgive me all my sins.” And you know what? He does exactly that! In fact, He doesn’t just show us mercy. He bestows on us His grace. (Remember: Mercy is not getting what you deserve, and grace is getting what you don’t deserve.)
Look to this font, this lectern/pulpit, this altar. This is the feast of victory—His victory! You don’t have to wait to get home to heaven to start feasting. I realize it will be inconceivably better in heaven, BUT (there’s that word again) here is where our heavenly Father continues to send His faithful servant, Jesus Christ, to feed us and nourish us with His grace, His mercy, His love, His peace. Consider the gifts of life, grace, mercy, and peace given to you by God Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism. Consider how your Lord feeds and nourishes you right here, each and every Sunday, at this earthly side of the Master’s heavenly feast table. Right here is where our Lord is bringing heaven to earth, to a bunch of sinful beggars and lowlifes like us! Consider the very words you hear, spoken directly to you precisely so that you can hear and trust, words spoken in the stead and by the command of the Master Himself. “You are forgiven. For the sake of Christ’s bitter suffering and death, you are forgiven. Depart in peace.” Recognized through the eyes and ears of faith, how could you want anything else? How could you even want to be anywhere else?
And that’s how we’ll end for today, with all the focus on our Immanuel—our God/Lord with us in our midst for our peace and our salvation. Hold fast to this blessed, Christ-centered Truth. Fear not. Be at peace. Your sins are forgiven in Christ and because of Christ. To Him alone be all glory, all praise, and all honor. AMEN
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
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