I want you to think about your best meal ever. I have had two recurring, best meal ever experiences. The first is my current Thanksgiving experience: juicy, succulent smoked turkey, with light brown gravy. On the side, mashed potatoes with cheese, stuffing with hard chunks of bread, sweet potato pie with those melted, browned marshmallows on top and cheesy corn casserole, ending the meal with warm pumpkin pie smothered in Blue Bunny vanilla bean ice cream. My second meal is radically different, with everything seafood. It is an Esposito Christmas Eve tradition with shrimp, fried shrimp, and shrimp parmesan. We would have muscles in red and white wine sauce, seafood salad, fish cakes and crab legs. I am now officially starving. What is it for you? We have an appetite for food and that is a good thing. We tend to think our appetite is a bad thing that needs to be eradicated, but if we had no appetites we would be dead. Our appetite is a gift from God.
In Luke 14 we find Jesus at a meal that takes place at the home of a prominent Pharisee. A very important and resourced religious leader is throwing a Passover party and Jesus is invited. We are not sure about the motives of the invitation because Luke tells us that Jesus was being carefully watched. Jesus understood what it was like to have the Paparazzi after you watching your every move. They wanted to trap and discredit Jesus at every turn. I don’t think Jesus took very kindly to the motives of this particular dinner invite. He begins by healing a guy with dropsy and from that point systematically offends everyone in the room. He starts by challenging their interpretation of the biblical law that they dedicated their life to, and moves to an indictment on how they sit at the table, a sign of honor and pride in ancient culture. Basically, Jesus is calling them a bunch of prideful, self-absorbed people who do not recognize that the one prophesied has come. He ends his rant by telling them they should not invite their friends and family because they repay you; instead invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind who cannot repay you.
Have you ever been at a dinner party where someone offends everyone by what they say? I have both experienced this and had a couple foot in my mouth moments as well. That is always a very awkward moment, with the tension rising in the room. We pick up the story in Luke 14:15 when a person at the table decides to break the tension. He says, “Blessed is the man who will eat the feast in the kingdom of God.” This guy is hoping that this statement will bring a great cheer of celebration because what he is saying is basically, “look at us we are all feasting together, and we are special because we will also feast in the new kingdom, the New Jerusalem that God will establish someday. We are in, we are good, so let’s party!” This would be like a Wisconsin cheese head trying to break the tension at a dinner party by shouting, “Isn’t it great to be fans of the undefeated Green Bay Packers?” It doesn’t work. Jesus doesn’t celebrate this comment, but he does get all Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid on them and tells one of his imaginative stories.
A certain man was preparing the most extravagant banquet imaginable. He pulled out all the stops. Because of the amount of guests invited to this banquet, they would have killed and prepared the fatted calf. That was the appropriate animal for a very large banquet, the best of the best when it came to ancient culinary achievement. The best china was put out, all the fixings, the house was cleaned, and the band was set. This would be one incredible celebration with nothing held back.
In Jesus’ day a wealthy man who threw this kind of party would send out two invitations. The initial invite is sent out and everyone accepts the invite. You would never have this kind of party without sending out two invitations. No one would attend a party with just one invitation because of the honor and shame code of the day. What if you received the invitation by accident and it was never the intent for you to be invited? How embarrassing! You would patiently wait for the second invitation as the servant goes out and reports that the meal is ready, the table is set, the food is hot, and the music is rocking.
Jesus gives us three examples in common story-telling fashion of his day, highlighting how the people invited respond. Remember all of these people have already received and responded positively to the invitation, but now when the servant arrives they give some very lame excuses as to why they cannot attend the great banquet. The first man says he must go and see a field that he just purchased. That is ridiculous and everyone listening would know the guy is lying. Buying land is a very big deal that only the wealthy could afford. Land was considered holy and a person would always examine the property in detail before purchasing. This would be like one of us buying a 600,000-dollar house over the phone with no walk through, no internet video cam, no inspection, nothing. Not going to happen. This is a big lie, though the man is at least kind in his rejection.
The next guy just bought five oxen, about 20,000 pounds of animal. Not as precious and holy as land, but a big deal purchase. You would never buy oxen unless you first examined them and watched them perform in a field. It was a major purchase, just like someone buying five high-end used cars today without looking under the hood or driving them. Not going to happen, another lie with a soft rejection.
The final guy has a different excuse that seems legitimate at first glance. He is possibly using the law in Deuteronomy that gives a guy permission to not go to war for a year after marriage to defend his reasons for not coming to the party. I just got married and we all know how hard that first year can be; I need to spend time with my wife. I need to be with her, care for her, how neglectful to go off to a big party with the boys. This seems reasonable until you realize that no Palestinian village would have two major banquets at the same time. And no one would quickly get married between the first and second invitation. This guy was creative with his excuse, but a big liar and he is not even kind in his rejection.
The servant returns to the master who would be sitting at the banquet table ready to party with his friends, the music playing and the sweet aroma of all the food wafting in the house. The mood quickly changes as the master hears the lame excuses of those who have been invited but won’t attend. In his anger he does not lash out against the invited guests, but is determined to have this banquet, turning his anger into resolve. The food will not be wasted, and the house will be filled with hungry appetites being satisfied. He tells his servants to go out in the community and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. All the “important” people have had their opportunity so now invite those who never get invited to this kind of party. Unlike the original invitees, the invisible people of their society show up.
(Continued Next Week).
 Bailey Kenneth, Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1983), 95-99.