June 5, 2016 A+D
St. Luke 14:15-24
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness for they shall be satisfied. Last we heard the parable of the beggar Lazarus who longed to eat from the rich man’s table. He was blessed in his poverty, blessed in his illness, and blessed in his loneliness. His dissatisfaction with this world drove him to be dependent upon God and to wait upon the promises delivered in Moses and the prophets.
This week we hear of men who have no desire for food. They’ve been invited to a banquet and all is ready but they are full of excuses. Their excuses are vain. The real reason they abstain is that they are not hungry. They see no benefit in the banquet and no repercussions if they abstain. They feel free to insult the host because they have stored up treasures on earth.
There will come a time when the invitation is withdrawn. Those men will get what they desired: they shall be free of the Lord, but they will be prisoners of themselves.
That time can come in a moment, the twinkling of an eye, a heart attack or a car accident, and we should all repent before it is too late. For all of us have sinned against the Lord’s invitation, all of us have taken it for granted or neglected it or come but then been inattentive.
The judgment will eventually come upon the whole of the earth. Time, as we know it, will not carry on but the Lord will return in glory. He will bring His own, the poor, the lame, the crippled, and the blind – those who hungered for righteousness – unto Himself and He will send off the rest to the place prepared for Satan and his angels.
This parable teaches us that there will be a final reckoning. Those who cannot help themselves, the poor, the lame, the crippled, and the blind, those who were not satisfied with their own righteousness, will find mercy. The death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection will cover their sins and they will come into the banquet as beggars but be seated as kings. This is grace.
But those who would stand upon their own works, who do not think that they need the Lord’s charity, who do not hunger for righteousness, they will be judged by their works and damned. Not everyone goes to heaven.
The parable means to give us some urgency. There is still room. We are compelled to go out into the world and issue the warning and invitation, to let the world know that the banquet is ready, that the Lord is ready and eager to receive sinners, that He has paid the price and slaughtered the fatted calf and asks us to only come and receive it. It isn’t a threat of what will happen if they don’t. It is an invitation to beauty and grace, to the goodness of God in Christ, a proclamation of love. It is an invitation to a banquet and those who are hungry can’t get there fast enough.
But there is one thing more to this parable, a hard thing: its context. The parable is told in response to the statement: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” That is a heretical statement. It is not heresy because it is false by its claim, indeed everyone who eats bread in the Kingdom of God will be blessed, but by its context, because everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God is blessed now. Now is the hour of salvation. Heresy misleads and deceives via half-truths. It puts us on the wrong track and focuses us on the wrong things.
It makes no sense to speak of future blessing, of what will be in some future Kingdom unless it is rooted in the present blessing of the present King. God incarnate sits at that table. A man doesn’t say to his wife on their wedding night that what he is really looking forward to is his retirement party. That is blasphemous.
Notice that the characters in the parable don’t reject the final summons, when the world is crashing down upon them. They aren’t unwilling to ever come to the banquet, they are just unwilling then, thinking falsely that they might come when it is more convenient.
Oxen and fields and wives are dangerous to faith because they can be either so alluring or so demanding that one think that he has no time for what God has instituted. There are at least two ways to go wrong here. One can deny the summons to the Lord’s Supper and absolution, one can put off hearing God’s Word and prayer, for pleasure. He can delay the Lord’s gifts for the sake of something more appealing, more entertaining – say an extra hour of sleep or a beautiful walk in the mountains, or simply to avoid that which feels boring to his flesh. The other way he can put off the gifts of the present Christ is for something less appealing but with the promise of earthly rewards, that is, one can invest in fields and cattle and wife not for immediate pleasure but for greater pleasure later. One can become obsessed with the future and thereby lose the future.
There is much to be praised in delayed gratification. Despite the parable of the ants and the grasshopper and all the work of Dave Ramsey, we are incredibly short-sighted beings. The common flaw we have is indebtedness and living for the moment without thought to the future not to putting off pleasure. But there is more than one way to make money into an idol, that is, there is more than one way to be greedy and worried about the flesh and make provisions for it. Being a good businessman or being debt free doesn’t always arise from virtue and certainly it doesn’t impress God.
The hero in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is Lazarus. He was a beggar who had nothing while the rich man had much. The rich man might have lived a disciplined life. He had saved and invested and not borrowed or partied. But the virtue sits with Lazarus. The heroes in the wedding banquet are not the industrious workers with an eye on their investments and businesses, but the poor, the lame, the crippled, and the blind.
Of course, we are not talking about money. We’re talking about faith. The point is that we should receive what God wants to give now and not put it off until later. We should live in the moment, with gratitude, as beggars, who are receiving that which we did not earn and could not buy. We should come to Church at the bidding of the risen Christ in order to receive what He promises: His absolution, His instruction, His Body and Blood and the bestowal of His righteousness.
But that simple message can also be confounded by our fallen flesh. We see a great example of this in the monasteries. This lesson – that we should take heed to spiritual concerns – was taken apart from all other wisdom and goodness and the Law. Thus it was turned to a great evil that did not create Christian spirituality but self-righteousness which abandoned family and neighbor to the destruction of many monastic souls.
What then should we learn? We should learn this: we are beggars. We are weak in our sins and we need to be constantly held in check by the Word of God lest we become fanatics like those who obsess over worldly goods to spiritual peril or those who become obsessed with spiritual truth to spiritual peril. I don’t mean to uphold some Aristotelian ideal of moderation but rather to say that contrary to popular wisdom we should be both borrowers and lenders, beggars and kings, focused on the present with an eye to the future based upon the history of salvation. We should be constant in repentance, ready to be instructed, dissatisfied with this world while also accepting it in gratitude and joy, fearful of our sins yet bold in our salvation and the promise of Baptism. When Jesus says, “Come to the feast,” we should come, eager for what He desires to give, almost desperate, and yet at the same time unafraid of missing it, trusting that our Bridegroom is also eager for us and won’t let us down.
“There is still room” doesn’t only apply to the lost. It also applies to us. Thank God! There is still room for us even as there is still room for those whom we love and for all the world. There is still room.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.