Bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame
The Parable of the Great Dinner
[Luke 14: 15-24]
Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God! Joyous and fortunate, indeed. The Kingdom of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit is invoked at the Divine Liturgy precisely as a banquet, bringing us into the presence of Christ at the Last Supper and simultaneously raising us to the heavenly places to sit at the eschatological feast.
Yet, as Jesus tells us in his parable of the Great Dinner, some decline the invitation to join the Lord at His banquet. Meanwhile, it is surprising in turn to see others included as guests. The honored guests first invited may well symbolize the religious elite of Israel, including the Scribes and Pharisees. Their excuses reflect a passage from book of Deuteronomy, which tells us that there were three excuses for being exempted from military service.
What man is there that has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his house…And what man is there that has planted a vineyard and has not enjoyed its fruit? Let him go back to his house…And what man is there that has betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him go back to his house [Deuteronomy 20:5-7].
The Lord commanded this so that men might enjoy newly discovered pleasures. But the excuses of Deuteronomy are here offered as rationalizations – a chance to put earthly pleasures and possessions ahead of what might seem to be an inconvenient occasion, but is ironically the greatest joy of all. God does not drag in the unwilling.
Yet the banquet’s host seems compelled to fill his banquet table, so he sends out his servants a second time. Now are included those who are ordinarily the outcasts of Israel. At their Lord’s bidding, his minions scour the streets and lanes of the city in search of the poor and the lame. When places at the table remain, they are sent out yet again, further afield, that his house may be filled. This is meant to symbolize the gentiles, those beyond the boundaries of Israel to whom the apostles gave their lives to reach.
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).
Even after rounding up the outcasts from the city, the lanes and the fields, a servant told the master: ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room’ (Luke 14:22). There is still room and time. Perhaps the ones who originally declined the invitation will change their minds. Perhaps those who now choose for themselves the role of outcast will in time accept the invitation to come in.