Behind Jesus’ sur­pris­ing words in Luke 14 was a com­mon belief all at the din­ner shared in com­mon. At the inau­gu­ra­tion of the age to come, an event that sig­naled the end of this present evil age,” the long await­ed Mes­si­ah would feed Israel at the great Mes­sian­ic ban­quet, after the pat­tern of Moses feed­ing Israel with man­na in the wilder­ness. One greater than Moses would come, intro­duce a greater king­dom than that estab­lished by Moses, and cel­e­brate the arrival of that king­dom with a great Mes­sian­ic meal. True to form, Jesus took these cur­rent Mes­sian­ic expec­ta­tions and invert­ed them in an entire­ly unex­pect­ed manner.

Who would be invit­ed to the great Mes­sian­ic ban­quet? Jesus’ reli­gious con­tem­po­raries – every teacher and scribe sit­ting with Jesus at that meal — ful­ly expect­ed to receive an invi­ta­tion. For quite evi­dent­ly, were not these peo­ple already marked by the bless­ing of God? Every teacher shar­ing table fel­low­ship at this meal believed he under­stood the Law of Moses, inter­pret­ed it well, and faith­ful­ly obeyed it. These teach­ers’ and scribes’ per­son­al lives were no doubt well-ordered. They were rec­og­nized and hon­ored by their cul­ture, phys­i­cal­ly healthy and men­tal­ly sound, and by all appear­ances free from all marks of God’s judgment. 

These reli­gious author­i­ties were con­fi­dent they knew what God’s judg­ment looked like: sick­ness, pover­ty, blind­ness, deaf­ness, insan­i­ty, the pres­ence of the demon­ic. It was the sick, the poor, the blind, and the lame that would be exclud­ed from the Mes­sian­ic ban­quet, not the holy, the well-taught, the obe­di­ent, the learned. 

Jesus assert­ed just the oppo­site. It was the poor, the crip­pled, the lame, and the blind that should be – indeed, would be – invit­ed to the ban­quet, rather than those who ful­ly expect­ed to receive an invi­ta­tion. Jesus was speak­ing of an upside-down king­dom, one full of rever­sals, unex­pect­ed hopes and unfore­seen pos­si­bil­i­ties, and shock­ing judgments.

God’s king­dom was open to all – includ­ing these Phar­isees and scribes — but to enter one’s under­stand­ing of one­self and one’s neigh­bor would have to dras­ti­cal­ly change. Those who thought they were rich would have to become poor. Those who thought they were healthy would have to acknowl­edge their sick­ness and need for heal­ing. And those who had lost hope, who on their bod­ies or in their minds bore the marks of exclu­sion, of judg­ment, of hope­less­ness, would be invit­ed into a king­dom whose entrance­way spelled grace, for­give­ness, heal­ing, and unimag­in­able, incom­pre­hen­si­ble love. The kingdom’s only require­ment was the accep­tance of the king’s invi­ta­tion to enter his realm.

One of those eat­ing at the table” with Jesus, a man who was either extreme­ly dull or extreme­ly dis­cern­ing, respond­ed imme­di­ate­ly to Jesus’ words with this com­ment: Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the king­dom of God” (Luke 14:15). How right he was. As he was speak­ing, did he think to him­self, Thank God, such will sure­ly be true of me,” like so many of the oth­ers at that table might well have been think­ing? Or did he com­pre­hend the mean­ing of Jesus’ words and their impli­ca­tions for the nature of the king­dom Jesus was announc­ing to Israel and to the world? It is hard to tell. I sus­pect the for­mer and hope the latter.

This live­ly, unex­pect­ed, dis­turb­ing, hope-filled din­ner con­ver­sa­tion had not yet end­ed. Jesus responds to this unknown teacher’s com­ment on the bless­ing reserved for all who enter the king­dom with anoth­er sur­pris­ing sto­ry with a star­tling, trou­bling twist. 

You are full of sur­pris­es, Lord. Often you catch me off guard with your words and actions. Help me to keep my eyes and ears open, for you con­tin­u­al­ly offer me mer­cy and grace.”

Catch up with Chris’s first two looks at this ban­quet (Can God Be Trust­ed? and One Wild Meal) and the rest of his blog posts at Con­ver­sa­tions with Chris.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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