Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.
Today’s Gospel is the parable of people invited to a big party. A man, maybe a rich man, is going to have a big party and has invited lots of guests. But many of them decline the invitation, bringing up various excuses. Then the host becomes angry and invites other people on the street whom he hardly knows. And he says: “I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.” (Lk.14:24)
If we try to understand this parable in a straightforward way, what Jesus is trying to teach us is: “Do not spoil the grace from God in vain. God is inviting you to his salvation. If you miss it, you cannot get it.” Remember, Jesus is teaching to Jewish people now.
Jesus also implies that God is planning to give us human beings his salvation. The Israelites were invited to the salvation of God in the first place, but they were – and they are – the same as other nations, stuck in the middle of sins.
And then Jesus came to rescue people from the situation. But Jesus didn’t come only for Jews, but also for foreigners who had not been invited to the salvation of God until then.
This is the straightforward meaning of this parable. The host is God, those who decline the invitation are Jews of the time, and we are those who are invited later. This is a right understanding of the parable in its basic meaning. “Don’t spoil the grace from God in vain. You are invited to his grace. Then answer him in the appropriate manner.”
We understand this first. And then I want to step in a bit further and try to see if there is any “hidden meaning” in this parable or if we can pull out some related message from it. In my opinion, if we just switch our position from the side of being invited to the side of inviting guests, we gain the wisdom of a new perspective. Let’s see how it is.
We all have the experience of inviting guests to a ceremony, party or some sort of gathering. And we know that it’s not an easy task to decide whom we should invite.
Now suppose that you want to have fun and are planning to have a private party at your home, and you are thinking whom you want to invite. Whom do you want to invite? If I were to invite people to my party, I would invite somebody I feel comfortable with, somebody I want to talk to, somebody who makes others happy or somebody who will help me at the party. I suspect that your choice would be similar to mine.
I would not invite someone whom I don’t like, someone who is rude in his behaviour, someone who just continues to speak without listening. And there is one more person I would not invite. That is someone I don’t know.
And here is what I want to say. When we decide whom we invite to our ceremony or party, there must be various kinds of criteria in order to choose the guests.
But there is one very common criterion for many. It is that we don’t invite people whom we don’t know, namely strangers or outsiders. “Outsiders” here means “people with whom I have nothing to do, with whom I have no connection”.
I think it’s very important that we recognize this point as our “common sense” or “nature”. This is maybe a necessary thing to keep our life safe and avoid stepping into some unexpected trouble. It is a positive attitude in that aspect.
But when this attitude appears around us as the attitude of mass society, it could work in a negative way and build up unnecessary walls of suspicion and prejudice.
Once this happened in an elementary school in Iceland. A girl had her birthday party and invited all her classmates, except one child. And that child was an immigrant child. This incident was interpreted as the message: “Immigrant, you are not invited.” I guess maybe the girl did not mean it and it was perhaps nothing but a kind of thoughtlessness.
This was years ago, and I hope this kind of heartless incident doesn’t happen today; nevertheless, every now and then, we happen to step in some situation when we need to ask ourselves this question: “Am I invited? Are immigrants invited to this society?”
We know that it makes a world of difference whether we feel invited here and welcomed, or we feel unwelcome. And naturally we have to ask of a similar question: “Are refugees invited?”
And if the answer should be “No”, the reason why they are not invited must be that they are considered strangers and outsiders: and when this unwelcoming attitude is acute, it is called “xenophobia”, fear of the foreign or strange.
This is a sociological issue, and a highly political one, but at the same time it is a matter in each individual’s heart. As I mentioned, we have a common tendency inside of us not to invite strangers or outsiders into our happy plan, a party or gathering, whatever it is. You know, it applies to us ourselves, too.
“Are immigrants invited into this society?” When we ask this question now, of course we think of Icelandic society’s attitude towards us, and we might complain about something. But what would we say if we were in our home countries right now?
Then our position reverses. We are not the side of receiving invitations, but are in a position to invite or not invite immigrants or refugees. For example, are refugees invited and welcomed in Japan? Oh, no. It is one of the most shameful things in Japan, how we are cold to them and ignore of. How about it in your own native country?
We should discuss immigrant and refugee issues in Iceland. It’s important. That is one thing. But we should also think about the attitude of not inviting strangers. It is natural to be cautious of strangers and to pass by outsiders, and we have this attitude in common.
This attitude is on one hand our common sense, but on the other hand it reveals a limit of loving others, caring for strangers. It is one of the pictures of human weakness.
Let’s think a little bit more whom we are going to invite to our party. But now let’s relate it to our faith in God. I want to make one thing clear. We are invited by God our Father. We receive grace from God.
And each Sunday worship service is actually a party, a festival. Each prayer meeting is also a party hosted by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and we are invited there, too. We receive love and care from Jesus.
Now, we are supposed to invite more people to share this grace, love and care from Jesus. Where are we supposed to invite people? Speaking practically, we invite others to the Sunday service in the church, or to a prayer meeting. Or speaking more generally, we invite someone to life with Jesus, not to a particular meeting at the church, but to help someone get to know Jesus.
But in both cases, we have to be aware of that we have a tendency not to invite strangers and outsiders. We need to overcome this tendency. We often see the word “All welcome” in some introduction to an event, but that is not an invitation. That is an announcement. It has to be more personal when we invite someone to the church or life with Jesus.
Then how can we make our invitation a personal one? Simply, by getting acquainted with those we would invite. How can we get acquainted with them?
That is also simple. By meeting them as living people, or individuals, trying not to look at only their nationalities, religious backgrounds or the groups to which they belong. They are individuals – living persons, just as we are. This is such a simple truth, but is incredibly often forgotten, underestimated and neglected.
Conversation between Japanese and Chinese cannot be personal. Dialogue between Icelanders and immigrants or refugees cannot be personal. Because Japanese, Icelanders, and immigrants are only concepts about people, not living persons themselves. We have to meet each other as individuals if we want to establish personal relationships.
If I say this here and now, you might think: “It’s a matter of course”. But please think how often and how much we actually judge others by their country of origin, religion, or if they are rich or poor, without knowing them as living individuals.
We need to try to get acquainted with strangers and make personal connections with outsiders in order to invite them to our party with Jesus. It isn’t an easy task. And we learn this when we switch positions, from the side of being invited to the side of inviting others.
Jesus wants to invite not only those whom we like, but also those with whom we haven’t gotten along. Jesus is clear about this. If we want to follow Jesus, we need to invite the fellows we don’t like, too.
If we are constantly thinking about being invited and being a guest of God our Father, then we could never answer the invitation from God appropriately. We need to know what is behind the invitation. We need to know what Jesus paid for the invitation to us. “Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”(1Jn.3:16)
Jesus died on the cross in order for us to receive the invitation to the kingdom of God our Father. Only when we know the pain and love that are behind Jesus’ invitation to us, we can answer it appropriately. And we notice that we are now supposed to invite others together with Jesus.
In the reality of here and now, we might be immigrants, refugees or something else. But none of those things is all about us. We are with Jesus. Do not forget this important thing about us that we are invited by Jesus. And now we want to invite others together with him.
The Grace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.
1 John 3:16-18
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”