“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” Luke 14:13 (NIV).
Picture the scene: an elaborately decorated banquet table situated in the center of a great hall. Every detail planned and executed with the greatest of detail and finesse. No expense spared. The places are set, the food exquisitely prepared and ready to serve. It is a feast fit for a King.
The large doors creak open and one by one the guests start filing in. But wait. There must be some mistake. These can’t surely be the invited guests? There is nobody of wealth and high position here. Nobody worthy of such a feast. Of a seat at this table.
And yet there is no mistake. No misunderstanding. The placecards are correct, they are supposed to be here. Every single one. The poor and the sick. The lonely and the lost. The misfits and the marginalized. This is the Lord’s table. And ALL are welcome.
It may sound unbelievable, but this is no fairytale. There is a heavenly feast being prepared and no-one is undeserving of an invitation. But something is going wrong. The message isn’t getting out – to the people that need to hear it the most. And if they don’t know that they’re invited…how will they know to come?
Remember the great commission. To make disciples of all nations. ALL. Not just people that look and think and behave like we do. It may not be comfortable, to reach out to those so different from ourselves, but then Jesus was never concerned with being comfortable. He was on a rescue mission to save every single soul. And He didn’t do that by separating himself from those He wanted to reach. By closing the doors and turning them away. Instead, He went directly to them in the midst of their sickness, sorrow and sin. ‘Come’, He said. And they did.
I wish we were able to do the same. But instead, we fall so very short of the standard He set for us. Focusing so much on the sin, that we forget about the person. Pursuing our own causes and agendas, without pausing to consider the human cost behind it. People who have had to make agonizing, life altering choices. Who are struggling to survive in their homeland, maybe even in their own bodies. We call them out on their sin instead of offering what they so desperately want and need. Love and compassion and so so much grace. To know they are valued beyond measure by their Creator and Father. That there’s a seat at the table, with their name on it, waiting to be filled.
But this is not the message they’re hearing — from the church, or from us. They have only ever been told what they are not. Not good. Not enough. Not acceptable. Not welcome. At least not as they currently are.
That, my friends, is not the message of scripture.
In the gospels, Jesus tells a parable about a man hosting a lavish wedding feast. After realizing that none of his wealthy and important guests are planning to attend, he decides instead to send his servant out into the streets to invite anyone and everyone they can find.
“Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”
Luke 14:21-23 (NIV).
God wants His house to be filled. And what’s more, there is no prerequisite entry standard to get in the door. The guests in this story were simply invited. As they were.
What if we did the same? If we went out beyond our comfort zones and just loved people? Just as they are. Without condemnation, or judgement and shame. With an invitation in hand.
We should never think we alone are powerful enough to change people’s lives. Only God can do that. But first, they need to want to meet Him. They need to know they can. And if we, as His followers, could love others with the love and compassion of Christ, the same self sacrificing, all consuming kind of love that caused Him to lay down His very life, I think, just maybe, the message will get through. And people will come.
But first things first. They need a seat at the table.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV).
The places are set, the banquet is ready. Who are you going to invite to the table?