Sermon for Oct. 3, 2021
The Parable of the Feast
The Rev. Jenn Geddes
Like most children my age I was a huge fan of Robert Munsch. I mean, who doesn’t love the story of the Paper Bag Princess, which celebrates 41 years since publication this year. When my brother, at the age of five ended up in hospital due to appendicitis and one of the side effects of the surgery is a lot of passing gas he received the book Good Families Don’t by Munsch and we howled at the story. And I don’t know any parents or grandparents who can’t be brought to tears by the beautiful story Love You Forever. Robert Munsch is not only a good story writer but an excellent storyteller. He has an intonation to his voice that keeps the listener engaged. I know this personally because I have seen him live, twice, once as a child and once as an adult. The thing about good storytellers is that the stories they tell stick with you. In fact, when one of us is making clanging noises in the kitchen the other will shout out “Clang, clang, rattle bing bang gonna make my noise all day!” If you raised children in the 80s you may already know that this comes from Munsch’ story Mortimer Be Quiet. While I wasn’t around to witness it personally, I know Jesus was a good storyteller. Now perhaps you think Munsch’s stories are a bit trite compared to Jesus’ parables but I would beg to differ, after all Munsch trained as a Jesuit priest before deciding to work in early childhood education. But the reason I am sure Jesus was a good storyteller is because Matthew, Mark and Luke recorded his stories.
The parables are often seen as a hallmark of Jesus’ ministry. Now, Jesus didn’t invent this style of preaching. The book of Judges includes the Parable of the Trees (Judges 9:8-15). Nathan taught King David a lesson or two through parables and Ezekiel often spoke in parables to the people of Israel. Jesus, however, seemed to master the skill. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew seems to imply that Jesus only spoke in parables when it states, “Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing.” And this was to fulfill words spoken by Isaiah that the messiah would speak in parables. Often parables will come up in the lectionary and I will do my very best to interpret them for our current context. However, following my course at VST entitled, ‘The Surprising Wisdom of the Parables’ I discovered a new depth. It is for that reason that we are going to embark on a month long journey, taking a deep dive into some of Jesus’ parables.
Today, in conjunction with communion, we are looking at the Parable of the Feast as told by Luke. I do want to point out that Jesus preaches and talks in parables in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but not in John. And sometimes the Gospel writers record the same parables, sometimes they record variations on the same parable, sometimes the story is told within very similar contexts and sometimes they place them in totally different circumstances, thus changing the meaning of the parables and sometimes the Gospel writers add their own spin- telling us how we should interpret them even if that’s not what Jesus said. For example, Matthew’s version of the feast parable, while it has some similarities, like a big feast and the guests have excuses, is rather different in tone from Luke’s version. In Matthew, the story is a wedding banquet for a king’s son rather than a great dinner. And when the slaves tell the guests to come to the wedding banquet, some of them get fatally aggressive towards the slaves. The regal host gets upset and seeks revenge on the people who attacked his slaves and then invites everyone he can find, mostly marginalized people, to attend the banquet. It gets even messier when one of the guests isn’t wearing the right outfit; but it takes a really gifted preacher to preach on that version this parable. Matthew puts this parable on an allegorical level whereas Luke’s emphasis on food fellowship really shines through.
Luke’s version of the parable involves a radical inclusion that would have been rather startling for the actual dinner guests who are hearing this story. In Matthew’s version Jesus spouts off various parables, including the one about the feast, while he awaits his arrest in Jerusalem. In Luke’s version Jesus is at a dinner party, a dinner party hosted by a pharisee no less! Here is some of that surprising wisdom of this parable as found in Luke.
I love understanding the allegory of the parables, in fact I love understanding most of Scripture in allegory, but good storytelling relies on the fact that there are many meanings within one story and sometimes it is important to look at the literal story rather than the allegory. In Jesus’ day, just like in ours in non-covid times, wealthy people put on dinner parties. This was often an effort to not only show off but make connections, grow one’s network. In this parable the first invited guests shame the host by making excuses as to why they are unable to attend. The host then turns around and invites the poor, crippled, blind etc. And a traditional reading of the parable would tell you that Jesus is seen as the host in this parable. Yet, could it be Jesus? Because the poor, crippled, blind, lame were never Jesus’ second choice, they were always Jesus’ first choice.
Further more, the host, does not invite all these people on the margins because he wants to help them, rather he wants lots of guests to show up at his party. He is inviting them out, of revenge not honour. Thus it would appear that, Jesus is poking fun at the honour-shame culture of the day as well as the culture of showing off or besting a neighbour. This is what my professor called a social dislocation parable. Jesus is overturning an expected norm- one that the original listeners, wealthy dinner guests, would have been following. This is not the first time Jesus pokes fun at social structures and it won’t be the last. Jesus’ ministry was all about developing a more authentic way of living and that’s what this parable is about. The surprising wisdom within this story is that rather than trying to “play the game” we need to try to live a best-self life. A life that invites others indiscriminately. A life that lives according to Jesus’ standards of mercy rather than business, or power, or pride. A life that doesn’t expect gain out of relationships.
This got me thinking, how might this parable relate to communion, particularly World Communion Sunday when denominations from all over the world are celebrating this sacrament together? Perhaps, in the interpretation of trying to be authentic in our lives, it relates to the intent behind communion. Do we celebrate communion because it is part of the familiar rituals or is it something that reminds us of who we are as Christians? Who is invited to communion? We’ve talked about this before- that historically only those “in the know” where allowed to take communion which stands against how the very first communion ever took place. As Jesus shared this meal with his disciples, he didn’t ask them if they were members or not, he didn’t even explain to them the meaning behind his actions, he simply invited them to do as he was doing in remembrance of him. Jesus knew what was about to happen, that Judas who betray him, that Peter would deny him, that his disciples would fall asleep in his greatest hour of need and yet, Jesus still said those words, “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, shed for you.” Unlike the host in this parable, Jesus invited any and all who were willing to listen and more importantly Jesus overturned any social hierarchies and said, it doesn’t matter who you are- there is a place at this table for you.
Let us hear the invitation to come to this table. Let us invite any and all who want to come to join us at this table. Let the fact that many of us are physically a part not restrict us in living our most authentic selves but inspires us to think differently on how to go about living that best life. How to live as the great storyteller, preacher, healer, and saviour taught us to live. Let us share in this communion with congregations all around the world and remember how it is we are called to live and who we are called to be. Amen