One truism about living in the world is that there is never enough. When our kids don’t finish their broccoli our parents instruct them to be thankful, given that so many others are short on food. Dr. Luther himself walked the streets as a monk, asking for alms and bread. Perhaps that led him to confess his deathbed words, “We are beggars.” Walk even this city long enough and you’re sure to encounter the familiar, “brother, can you spare a dime?” We always have the poor with us, even as we are but poor. For even those of us who have been blessed with wealth and plenty eat our fill only to find the sharp pangs of hunger but a few hours later. We’re acquainted with want, and meanwhile it seems that, in the world, there is never enough.
That is why the parable of the great supper is so strange – because the only beggar in this parable is God. And God here begs for nothing more than that He may give. The Lord is a Giver. And He begs to give that others may have. This is His one and only goal – that He may give, that you may receive. His language demands nothing but that He give and that you have – “Come for all is ready” is how God speaks. And when God speaks this way it is not even that you may receive in some kind of abstract sense, like an i.o.u. now for the real deal later, but that you may have something as real and tangible and satisfying as a feast – a wedding feast, sumptuously appointed; able to fill all our bellies without making a dent in what’s offered. If it is God’s cup, it is a cup which always “runneth over.”
But the strangeness comes when no one cares to receive God’s bounty. It’s not the familiar story we’re so used to, a story of hungry people. It’s a much rarer story of a Lord ready to satisfy all hunger but no one cares to receive Him. And while Matthew presents the people who turn God down as hostile to God, Luke portrays them as nothing more than ridiculous and stupid and always looking for the excuse. One man actually chooses work, the tending of his fields, to God’s invitation to eat and rest. Another would rather look down the mouths of his newly-purchased oxen than sup on the fruits of God’s gracious provision. Finally still, another cannot celebrate this marriage because ironically, it is his own marriage that demands his full and undivided attention. Maybe it’s that, they think there will be time later for God’s feast. Maybe their felt needs just don’t care for this food.
But what makes their rejection so intolerable? This is no ordinary meal. It says, “Blessed are those who eat bread in the kingdom of God!” And the kingdom of God is always where Christ Himself is truly present, in the flesh. As John the Baptist himself says, “The kingdom of God is at hand” and the kingdom John speaks about is none other than the man Jesus Christ. On earth. In the flesh. With Jesus present, this can be no spirit-food, or abstract food, like when people get together to share an idea, or share a metaphor, as if the kingdom of God were not really there but merely talked-about. It’s not even that we eat with our hearts, in faith – it’s more than that. Because to eat bread in the kingdom of God is a here and now invite, as Christ is bodily present in bread and wine, which is His body and blood. We are the ones of whom God speaks when the psalmist says, “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house, and You shall make them to drink of the water of Thy pleasures.” Real food, real drink, for the forgiveness of sins, here, straight from the hand of God.
But, the invitation to feast is rejected, that’s what this parable is about, and the Lord is angry. He is angry with the greatest of all blasphemies, and the greatest of all blasphemies is to seek the things of God outside of God. To look inwardly, to pretend that all our own ditherings are supremely important, to look for distractions, to make ourselves the chief creators of our own beauty instead of living as beggars and receiving beauty from outside, from the One who has the power to make us so much more complete and whole, forever filled and beautiful. Our working is the opposite of God’s working: we work not that we may give, but that we may have. We work to protect what is ours, that what is mine may stay mine, that mine may be no one else’s. God’s cup perpetually runs over while ours we constantly try to fill.
And so our Lord is rejected. But His response is stranger still: it’s not to have the people bound in chains and simply dragged in against their wills. This is no Calvinist Lord whose grace is irresistible. The Lord allows Himself to be stood up. The Lord is like a wounded lover, allowing the door to be slammed in His face, and rejected. Indeed, our Lord tells this parable even as He makes way to the place of the people’s greatest rejection of God – the cross. It is the place where Christ laments, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen does gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” At Jerusalem, we would rather have a convicted murderer than the Father’s Son. That alone points to our futility, our wrong-headedness, and our downright hatred of God. Better to settle with the common and familiar, even if it’s bad.
But though He might allow Himself to be rejected, He does not give up on you. But He continues to beg, He begs to invite, He invites that He might give. He might be cast out by the self righteous but His table is still set for sinners. And those who receive are the ones who never believed that they were worthy enough to be having what God was giving. Those who received in this parable are the ones who are driven by the poverty of the flesh, the deaf, the lame, the maimed, and the blind – to receive what they know they cannot get by themselves. We are driven by contrition over the poverty of our souls, the lustful and greedy, the envious and prideful – to receive what we know we cannot work for ourselves: the forgiveness of our sins, the cleansing of our souls and bodies, and finally, the ability to stand righteous before God on the last day.
The Law makes us beggars. The Law makes us despair of everything of our own, everything that belongs to us, so that we flee to Christ our refuge. Only beggars though, will be gladdened by the invitation, “Come, for all is now ready.” Only those who feel their sins and see their need for God’s grace will taste the Lord’s banquet. We are beggars, but we are blessed. Because like all beggars our lives are handed to us from the outside. We live off Another. And the Other we live off of, is glad to be our Manna in the wilderness. He is glad to prepare a table before our enemies, even as we sojourn in the valley of the shadow of death. He is glad that we taste and see that He is good, that His mercy endures forever. He is glad to receive us to Himself, to cheer our hearts, to slake our thirst and hunger, and finally, to bid us rest.
In the +Name of Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Andrew T. Yeager