I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the thoughts and words of this reading that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
Luke 14:15-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Parable of the Great Dinner
15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 Then Jesus[a] said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 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.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
On more than one occasion Jesus told a parable that featured a banquet or a feast. In this parable of the kingdom of God a man is holding a banquet and the invited guests are too busy to show up. All of them have excuses. So he says to his servants, “Go quickly to the city’s streets, the busy ones and the side streets, and bring the poor, crippled, blind, and lame,” but the servants report that there is still room at the table after all these have been invited. The generous holder of the Great Banquet, then says in the verses that follow today’s reading, “Go to the highways and back alleys and urge people to come in so that my house will be filled.” The invitations are extended in wider and wider circles until, ultimately, everyone is invited to the feast—including all those who, in Jesus’ time and culture, would have been excluded.
The Saving Grace of God is extended to everyone.
What are your fondest family memories with your parents, your siblings, your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins? What about with friends? When you think of laughter, telling stories, and sharing memories, what location comes to mind? I would guess that most of us think of a table. Maybe you’re remembering a Formica table by the kitchen sink. Maybe you’re thinking of the card table—the “kids’ table”—set up to make sure there’s room for everyone. Maybe you’re remembering the day when you were promoted to the “big table” and how you felt all grown up and yet you missed the fun at the card table. Maybe it’s a picnic table in your back yard or in a national park. Or there’s no table at all, but a circle of chairs around a campfire with plates in laps.
There is something about eating together as family and the extended family of friends. There are certain foods that bring back memories and we can’t even think of most holidays without thinking of food and sharing it together. Do you have those memories? Everyone gathered and chatted as the food was prepared. Everyone was hungry! The food cooking smelled wonderful! When the meal was over, everyone was filled up and satisfied! When I think back on those best of times, I am convinced that it was not so much the taste of the food (even though it was good—maybe even fantastic). Rather, it was eating together that was so memorable. It:
- Reminded us we were a family—a part of something bigger than ourselves.
- Reminded us of who we were.
- Was an opportunity for being close to one another.
- Was a source of security and a sense that everything will be all right.
- Was a celebration.
There is nothing like a meal shared with family and friends.
No wonder this image of salvation in Jesus’ parable has such impact.
It operates on several levels.
First, the image of food and drink as salvation is literal. In the Kingdom of God—that realm wherever and whenever God’s will is done—everyone has enough to eat. The salvation Jesus brought is the kingdom of God and there is no spiritualizing away what that means in very concrete terms. It is the realm of God in which—as God’s will is done on earth as in heaven—the thirsty receive drink, the hungry receive food, the sick receive care, the imprisoned are visited, and the stranger is welcomed. This is all literal, in the present tense. No wonder Jesus message could be upsetting—just as the messages of the prophets were. Sometimes we are too quick to spiritualize the messages of the Bible when the salvation of God becomes so present—as it always does—that it demands something of us or challenges our ways of thinking and acting. In other words, what happens when the words of Jesus or the words of the prophets apply to my life and the life of my community or nation today?
- Salvation means that in the realm of God everyone has enough. How does that happen? What does that mean for you and me and our community, nation and world?
- Salvation means that in the realm of God those who are sick receive care. How does that happen? What does that mean for you and me and our community, nation and world?
- Salvation means that in the realm of God those who are in prison know they are not forgotten and are still human beings, children of God. How does that happen? What does that mean for you and me and our community, nation and world?
- Salvation means that in the realm of God those who are strangers are welcomed. How does that happen? What does that mean for you and me and our community, nation and world?
But the image of food and drink—of a banquet—is also a metaphor.
In Psalm 63, which is entitled “A Psalm of David, when He was in the Judean Desert,” the psalmist speaks of the soul’s hunger and thirst — and the rich feast that feeds the soul: “God! My God! It’s you—I search for you! My whole being thirsts for you . . .” Then, he proclaims, “I’m fully satisfied—as with a rich dinner.”
To consider salvation as a banquet means, on the one hand, literal food — the sustenance that God provides — meaning that in the Kingdom of God everyone has enough to eat. But also what we celebrate in the sacraments of communion is food and drink in the metaphorical sense, that salvation is satisfaction of the hunger and thirst we have for God and for meaning and purpose in our lives.
Salvation as a banquet also speaks to reconciliation with God and with one another. It’s no surprise the central sacrament for us, Holy Communion, is at the table. When you sit down at the table with someone you are, in Biblical terms, reconciled to that person. When Psalm 23 says, “You’ve prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies” that’s all about reconciliation. A banquet in this sense always offers a sense of reconciliation as well as celebration.
Salvation as a banquet also speaks to our ultimate hope—that death does not have the final word. In the communion ritual, we speak of “feasting at His heavenly banquet.” This is another image of heaven and fellowship with God and those who have gone before us.
We gather for worship hungry. We hunger in many ways. For example, we hunger to be better, to give a better life to our children, to find peace. We hunger for wholeness, justice, mercy, or forgiveness. We hunger for companionship. We hunger for a depth of relationship that is missing from our lives.
There is a hunger for a sense of meaning, a sense of purpose, a sense of something lasting. Jesus called this “abundant life” and John’s gospel records that Jesus stated his own purpose in this way: “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus used another image in our text for today when he said, “I am the bread of life.”
“I am the bread of life,” said Jesus. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” In those words, He is saying that He satisfies, as no one or nothing can. As St. Augustine put it in the fourth century, “Lord, Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.” We are restless and hungry, and many of us have no idea what we are restless or hungry for. The path of true wisdom is to recognize our deep inner hunger for what it really is: a hunger for God.
Our deepest need is not for the things God provides; our deepest need is for God—the one who really quenches our thirst and satisfies our hunger.
When we come to the Lord’s Table to commune together, we take these symbols of Christ’s body and blood into our bodies and remember in a tangible way that until we are fed by Jesus Christ, we will not be satisfied.
Writer Nancy Mairs tells about what communion came to mean to her when she came to her present church during a serious illness without having experienced conversion:
The model I experienced [at that church] was one of inclusion rather than exclusion. Instead of being denied communion unless I converted, I was given communion until I felt strong enough to convert. The nourishing quality of the eucharist, freely offered to anyone who’s famished, has always been a central metaphor for me. I don’t partake because I’m a good [Christian], holy and pious and sleek. I partake because I am a bad [Christian] riddled by doubt and anxiety and anger: fainting from severe hypoglycemia of the soul. I need food. [Mairs, Nancy. Ordinary Time (Beacon). Quoted by Martin Marty in Context, March 15, 1994]
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster