Sermon: “Come, for everything is ready now”

The Gospel according to Luke, chapter 14, verses 15-24:

One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and fences, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”
Gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds that in hearing and receiving your word of gracious invitation, we might be transformed into your sanctified witnesses to the establishment of your eternal kingdom through Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.

By the time Jesus tells this parable of the great dinner, we as listeners have been well-prepared. Luke’s gospel tells us that on this Sabbath day Jesus attended a meal at the house of a Pharisee, where he healed a person with dropsy. After speaking to the guests about how to be humble and to the host about how to be gracious, Jesus then delivers this parable. His earlier teachings had been the prologue. This is the heart of the matter. His teachings were about everyday feasts; this is about the great feast. His teachings were about how to live in the kingdoms of this world; now he speaks about the kingdom of God. So what, then, does he say about this kingdom?

First, according to Jesus, the kingdom of God is an event of interruption. We see from the responses of the invited guests that the invitation to the great dinner is an interruption of their lives. The servant of the master comes to them and to us unannounced and declares: “Come, for everything is ready now.” The kingdom feast is a disruption of their existence and ours, a wave in the otherwise calm sea of our self-contained lives. The servant comes calling us to something greater, something outside of ourselves, something worth setting aside possessions, work, and family for the joyous event of eating together. But for those who have much invested in the kingdoms of this world—in the world of possessions, work, and social networks—the interruption of the kingdom is muted, the voice of the servant pallid and subdued.

Such is not the case when the servant proclaims the good news of a feast among the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. For them, a dinner party is completely and utterly incomprehensible. The announcement of a feast for anyone is a gift, but the announcement of a great feast for them is a totally gratuitous gift—a gift given without any reasons, entirely unwarranted, simply irrational, utter foolishness. While it is not recorded in our text, the servant probably proclaimed the same message to them, “Come, for everything is ready now.” It is finished. The table is set, and the meal is served. And who is the poor person called to this table? It is I. It is you. It is my neighbor and yours. Or, at least, the poor, the blind, and the lame ought to be us. These are the people who have no vested interests, who have nothing to offer others. They have no kingdom; they are entirely dependent on a world which shuns them. In relation to the master, they are passive recipients of the gift which disrupts and continues to disrupt the fabric of their lives. At the same time, the feast of the kingdom reorients them toward the future—not just a future, but the particular future of the kingdom. It is a future that remains for the most part unknown, and yet behind and above and before that unknown future stands the master who calls them to the meal with the message of grace, “Come, for everything is ready now.”

But the kingdom feast is more than interruption. Not only are we stopped in our tracks; we are redirected and taken to a home, the home of the master where the table is set and the food lies ready before us. Thus, second, the kingdom of God is an event of liberation. The kingdom is not only a No to our past, but much more importantly, it is a Yes to our future. The master says No for the sole purpose of saying Yes. The event of the kingdom interrupts in order to liberate. The kingdom of God dissolves all our self-evident attachments—whether to money, possessions, status—in order that new attachments may be established in their place. Those who dine with the master in the parable are not merely taken away from their old lives; they are given new ones. The poor are not simply transported to a new location (in which they would remain poor and crippled); they are brought home and made rich. Those who have nothing to offer are given everything and more.

The fact that the kingdom is a liberating event helps to explain the excuses of those who were originally invited by the master. Liberation is only attractive to those who are oppressed. The people who refused the dinner invitation had fields, oxen, and family; they were satisfied with what life had to offer. The kingdom of the status quo was sufficient for them. Interruption and liberation are inconveniences for such people. Of course, this is like playing in a sandbox while vacationing at the beach. The liberating feast of the kingdom freely bestows its festal liberty upon all people apart from their capacity to repay the host. But there is a cost. One must allow the old order of things to pass away. Liberation is always a dialectical event. Freedom is always freedom-from and freedom-for: from the No and for the Yes, from the old and for the new, from the past and for the future, from sin and for righteousness, from death and for life.

Lastly, then, beyond death and life, beyond interruption and liberation, we arrive at the third and final event of reunion. After the poor and the lame are brought in to the feast, the master tells his servant to “go out into the roads and fences.” The servant is sent to the figurative slums, to the invisible people who are overlooked and rejected for reasons beyond physical handicaps. The streets and roads represent the usual social outcasts; but the fence represents social segregation and systemic divisions. In the time of Jesus, no fence was more prominent than the one between Jews and Gentiles, yet the master proclaims that even this division will be overcome by the liberating power of the kingdom feast. The master tells the servant to “compel” them, for what could be more compelling than the gracious love and divine joy that radiates from this home, from this table? The master, in establishing reunion among divided peoples, proclaims the year of Jubilee, when slaves are set free, divisions overcome, and disparate groups come together as one people. Cultural norms are uprooted in the presence of this festal delight, in which the emancipatory event of reunion replaces the ancien régime of division. And this same jubilean joy ought to be replicated in our own Sabbath rest, as Jesus demonstrated in the healing of the man with dropsy. The event of a Jubilee year comes along maybe once in a lifetime, but in our new lives, we must eat of this feast regularly.

Thus, the parable of the great dinner is not only evocative of God’s disruptive and liberating kingdom, it is also—and perhaps most especially—an icon of the Eucharistic feast, in which we partake of the body and blood of Jesus. The Eucharist interrupts our normal patterns of life and excludes all other forms of sustenance. Jesus Christ, sacrificed for us, declares a firm No to any attempt on our part to supplement the meal of our Lord or to even assist in its preparation. Jesus says No to us, yet at the same time he declares, “Yes, come; for everything is ready now.” The Eucharist then liberates us by feeding us with our only true food and our only true drink. Finally, the Eucharist joins us together in unity as one body under one Lord. All divisions are definitively nullified at the Lord’s table, and in their place reigns the unity of the Holy Spirit. Most importantly, the paradox of this meal—and the paradox of the kingdom itself—is that God gives us this true food and true drink free of charge. The Eucharist is the meal of grace; the kingdom is the reign of grace; God is the God of grace.

The parable of the great dinner, like that of the Good Samaritan, does not tell us the full story. The end is really only the beginning. The master tells the servant to go out into the dark and lost corners of society, and then the parable ends, as if to imply that this is an ongoing reality. The work of reconciliation is complete; the work of reunion continues today and awaits the final and true kingdom feast, when Jubilee will last for eternity.

In conclusion, who is this servant who goes into the far country to proclaim the jubilean feast of the kingdom, who brings in the poor and the blind, who compels the outsiders by the overwhelming presence of grace? He is none other than Christ himself. The one who calls us out of the past and into the future, who interrupts us as the way and the truth and the life, who seats us at the head of the table, who bore the cost of the No in order to bring us the Yes without restriction—he is also the very one on whom we feast, for it is his body and his blood that brought us there. He not only prepared the meal; he is the meal. He prepared himself for us and our salvation, that we who are poor might become rich in him.

R. S. Thomas, a poet and priest in the Church of Wales, wrote this near the end of his life:
When we are weak, we are
strong. … When we are poor
and aware of the inadequacy
of our table, it is to that
uninvited the guest comes.
Jesus Christ interrupts us as the uninvited guest; he stands before us, poor and weak people that we are; he sees our inadequate table that has nothing to offer him; and then, giving his own body up for us, he declares, “Come, for everything is ready now.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.