The Gospel for Tuesday of the 31st Week features the Lucan version of the parable about a man who gave a banquet. (In the Matthew version, Jesus refers to him as a king and I will refer to him that way in this post.) When all was ready, the servants were sent out to fetch the invited guests, many of whom made excuses:
The first said to him, ‘I have purchased a field and must go to examine it; I ask you, consider me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have purchased five yoke of oxen and am on my way to evaluate them; I ask you, consider me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have just married a woman and therefore I cannot come’ (Luke 14:18-20, see also Matthew 22:2).
None of the excuses is wrong or evil in itself. The guests weren’t excusing themselves to be able to consort with a prostitute, oppress the poor, or wage war. Each goes off to do something good. However, as the saying goes, “The good is the enemy of the best.” Oddly, the invited guests reject the rare opportunity to attend a banquet in favor of some good but lesser activity.
Their excuses illustrate well the disposition of many today who prefer the passing things of this world to the greater and lasting gifts of God and the things awaiting them in Heaven. While indifference and misplaced priorities have always been human problems, we in the modern age seem to exhibit them in greater abundance. This is likely an effect of having so many options and creature comforts available to us.
Indifference is a huge problem today. Though there are some people who resist, disbelieve, or even hate God, and others actively engaged in serious sins, there are even more who have simply fallen into indifference and drifted away from God and the things of Heaven. They veer off to the modern equivalent of examining their farms, evaluating their livestock, or spending time with their spouse: one goes off to detail his car, another goes shopping, yet another is off to a family function or even to work. If they think of God at all or of the invitation to attend Mass, they casually dismiss it because they have so many other things to do.
What makes this sort of rejection of God’s invitation so pernicious is that, as in the parable, most of these people don’t go off to do sinful things. Many today who live very secular lives, giving little or no thought to God, are very “nice” people. Many of them pay their taxes, love their families, and dedicate their time to any number of good causes. It is easy to look at their decision to skip Mass and conclude that it’s “no big deal.” Though they seem to have little time for God or for the things of God they are still “nice” people. Everything is fine because they don’t really mean to reject God or His invitation to holy things. Surely, they will be saved in the end. Or so we think.
The parable does not make this conclusion. Our thinking that everything is probably fine is at odds with the very words of Jesus. The parable teaches that their rejection has catastrophic consequences: they will not have no part in the banquet! For, I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will taste my dinner (Lk 14:24).
Their indifference to, and rejection of, the invitation has a lasting effect. At the end of the day you’re either at the banquet or you’re not. Being “nice” or going off to do good (but lesser) things doesn’t get you into the banquet. Accepting the invitation and entering by obedience to the summons of faith gets you in. Once in, there will be plenty of “nice” and good things to do, but you must obey the summons and enter by faith. That many today regard the summons lightly, preferring worldly things to the things of God is, as the parable teaches, very dangerous.
Let us study carefully the king’s reaction to the rejections by the invited guests, noting three things about the response. The text says,
Then the master of the house in a rage commanded his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ The servant reported, ‘Sir, your orders have been carried out and still there is room.’ The master then ordered the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled. For, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner’ (Luke 14:21-24)
The translation is vivid: the king is described as being in a “rage.” Scripture says, And without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him (Jn 3:36).
We must be careful here to understand the implications of the Greek word that underlies this. The Greek word is ὀργίζω (orgizo), and while it can be properly translated as anger or rage, more deeply it expresses a “settled opposition” to injustice. The word does not describe God as being in an egocentric rage, as if he were some sort of a jilted lover. Rather, the anger comes from a settled, serene stance in which God does not (and cannot) adjust Himself to the vicissitudes of sinners or change Himself to placate them. God’s stance remains unchanged. It is our stance that changes and makes us come to experience His love as wrath.
The form of the verb used in the text underscores this reality. The verb form is an aorist, passive participle (ὀργισθεὶς (orgistheis)) best translated as “having been angered.” Thus, God does not change His principled stance of offered love; it is those who reject Him who change and experience His love as wrath. It is the result of human rejection that brings forth this experience. God’s settled, steadfast opposition to the human refusal of His love does not and cannot change. It is our rejection of His offer that puts us in opposition to Him, not an egotistical rage on His part. God unchanging desire is for His banquet hall to be filled.
Having been rebuffed by some, the king merely intensifies his resolve to extend the invitation further until the hall is filled! He sends his servants out again and again; he will not stop calling until the full number of guests has been reached. Scripture says, Then [the martyrs] were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete (Rev 6:11). For the whole creation hopes for and expects the full revelation of the sons of God (Rom 8:19). There is an old spiritual that says, “Oh, preacher, fold your Bible. For the last soul’s converted!”
God, who does not relent in His resolve or change His settled stance, continues to call until enough sinful, stubborn human beings repent and accept His invitation to the banquet.
The final line of the passage is telling. Although it sounds like a denunciation, it should be understood more deeply as a sign of respect. The king says, For, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner. At the end of the day, God will respect (though not approve of) the rejection of His invitation. God has made us free. He respects our freedom even if, in His settled opposition to sinful and harmful choices, He regrets our decisions. Scripture says, If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us (2 Tim 2:12). Yes, God will at some point either accept and ratify our denial of His offer or He will rejoice in our enduring yes. The decision is ours and it is one that will determine our destiny.
We in the Church must become more sober in our appreciation of what a parable like this teaches. We cannot allow ourselves to be carried away by the unbiblical notion that most people will be saved and that they can do so merely by being “nice.” There are lots of nice people in the world (however vaguely “nice” is defined). The more critical question is this: Do you want what God offers or do you prefer the world, with its offers rooted in the flesh or even in the devil?
There is a strange obtuseness to the human heart, which desires lesser things to greater ones, which is easily carried away by passing pleasures, which hates the discipline of the cross. We must recover an urgency in our evangelization that does not presume that most will “make it in” by some natural “goodness” or “niceness.” We need to draw everyone to the definitive yes that a parable like this teaches is necessary. Vague notions of universalism and of being pleasant, nice people cannot replace the biblical teaching of obedience to the summons to say yes to God’s Kingdom. Naïve and myopic notions cannot save God’s people or motivate vigorous and urgent evangelization. Only an obedience to God’s Word can do that. Presumption is a terrible thing and it stabs evangelization in the heart.
The teaching here is clear: we need a sober, consistent, urgent outreach to the many souls who prefer the secular to the sacred, the passing to the eternal, what is here to what is heavenly. Wishful thinking will not win any souls, only a sober seriousness rooted in God’s Word will do so.
The music in this video I prepared is by Fiocco and the text is this: Homo quidam fecit coenam magnam, et misit servum suum hora coenae dicere invitatis ut venirent: Quia parata sunt omnia. (A certain man made a great banquet and sent his servants at the hour of the feast to say to the invited that they should come: because everything is prepared.)