I think sometimes we overlook Jesus’s power as a storyteller. There he is, walking the dusty streets of Israel, captivating audiences with parables like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, stories told centuries ago but that have somehow gotten into our bones. The stories of Jesus change us.
The Parable of the Banquet is one of these stories. One day, a man decides to throw a banquet. The richest food, the finest wine is prepared and out go the invitations. These go to the in-crowd, the dignitaries, the VIPs.
And no-one comes.
Oh sure, they make excuses, but these excuses show their priorities, and a relationship with their would-be host isn’t one of them. So the doors of the banquet are thrown open – to the poor, the hurting, the outsiders.
It’s not really a subtle parable. God’s the guy who’s throwing the banquet and those who take his invitation for granted find themselves outside his Kingdom, while the partygoers are those rejected by polite society but who nevertheless find themselves responding to God ‘s invitation. It’s a lesson for the Church to learn – the Kingdom often grows unexpectedly, outside structures of religious privilege and comfort, in places where God is more important than doctrine.
But that’s the politics of it. The heart of this story is grace, pure and simple. While Jesus’s audience here is made up of insiders in danger of becoming lost, let’s look at it from the perspective of those who did accept the invite.
A couple of days ago, two workers with the Fusion project were asked to replicate this parable – you can see a video of it here, and read a behind-the-scenes account here. The amazing thing about this was the inclusivity of it all – middle class and homeless, Brits and Hungarians, Church and Starbucks, all shared in an outpouring of grace and community. This is the Kingdom, one facet of it at least, and it’s beautiful.
Sometimes, though, this beauty scares me: I wouldn’t know how to relate to someone who has to sleep in a doorway, wouldn’t know how to deal with someone off their face on drugs. And yet the Kingdom of God encompasses all those in need of grace, myself included, and demands I follow Jesus into a world where the church throws banquets for anyone who’ll come and throws a birthday party for a prostitute at 3am. It’s scary and humbling and amazing, all at once.
2,000 years ago, a thirty-something rabbi told a tale that found itself embodied in 21st century York. The party is for all and grace is poured out in streets and coffee shops and church halls. People can change and the world can be transformed – restored – into a different place.
This is the power of God’s great Story.
(On thinking about it, this connects to another post I wrote, all about ‘cooking for Christ’. Here’s the link.)