One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to Jesus, "Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" Then Jesus said to him, "Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.' Another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.' Another said, 'I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.' So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.' And the slave said, 'Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room." Then the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.'"
We are still at the same meal (see yesterday’s reading), and the atmosphere is tense. So someone tries to lighten it up a little, exclaiming gallantly, "Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" But Jesus tells a story, the point of which is, in effect, that there will be surprises in the kingdom of God. (He wasn’t always easy company.)
In the story, people began to make excuses for not coming to the party. They are not the most convincing excuses in the world. Why was that first one in such a hurry to check out his new field? Surely he had checked it out before he bought it. The second one had bought five oxen. Most ancient landowners had only one or two, so this was like saying, “I must take my Ferrari for a run.” The third one said he was just married and therefore couldn’t come. Ancient husbands were far from hen-pecked, so it wasn’t that his wife had refused him permission. The law allowed a newly married man to be free from certain obligations, such as military service (Deut 20:7; 24:5), but going to a party wouldn’t spoil his honeymoon. Besides, he had already accepted the invitation. Obviously he just didn’t want to bother.
If you really want to do something, you always find time and opportunity to do it. If you don't want to do it, one excuse is as good as another. To excuse yourself is to accuse yourself, say the French, a very clever race of people: qui s’excuse s’accuse. Some of us spend a great part of the day making excuses. We even make excuses to ourselves, incredibly expecting ourselves to believe them. It would be interesting to study them as a kind of literary genre. They are a catalogue of dishonesty. An honest failure is a fine thing, but dishonesty has nothing to be said for it. So in Jesus’ story, the master sent out for some honest failures: “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” When there was still room, he sent out for more – from the highways and the byways.
We can appreciate that the “leader of the Pharisees”, who had invited Jesus to dinner, didn’t enjoy his dinner very much that day; and we can see him wondering which character in the story was himself. We may well wonder – because the story is about us too.
|Back to calendar|