Jesus was a storyteller.
He composed stories and remixed parables and turned tales on their heads, and he did all this to teach us about fundamental cosmic realities, things like salvation and redemption and atonement.That’s why we still love these parables, because we never truly get to the bottom of them, but yet the core truths contained within them dig deep into our bones.
But while the parables have a spiritual message for us, some of them can’t be left there. After all, we can take the theological insights from them and leave the parables trapped between the covers of our Bibles instead of taking them out onto our streets and into our communities. Some of the parables need to be embodied – incarnated – into the world around us and into the lives of our church. After all, the Good Samaritan teaches us to help whoever needs help; the Prodigal Son teaches us to always be prepared to offer forgiveness. And the Parable of the Banquet teaches us to create welcoming communities.
Long story short – Jesus tells the story of a king who holds a wedding feast, but when the big day arrives, the guests decide they can’t be bothered to attend. In the face of this rudeness, the king orders his servants out into the streets to invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame”. In other words, the people who weren’t normally at the top of anyone’s guest list. Of course, this was a picture of how the Kingdom of God wasn’t limited to a privileged religious elite, but let’s not limit this to a nice metaphor of our spiritual salvation – what if this was a description of our churches?
Look, let’s be honest – churches aren’t always the most accessible places when it comes to disability awareness. But in the parable, there’s a specific invite to those who have a disability. Why? Because when Jesus was originally telling this story at a polite dinner party, the disabled were often left on the fringes of society, begging on the margins just to get enough to eat. Jesus is throwing the doors open, and two thousand years later, we should be doing the same. Because the Kingdom of God isn’t just about heaven and the afterlife, it’s about the here and now.
So we have a responsibility to ensure that God’s Great Banquet in the here and now is accessible. Think about those servants in the parable – if you’re sent out to those who can’t see, then you need to have some invites written in Braille. If you’re sent out to those with mobility issues, then you’d better be sure that the party venue isn’t at the top of three flights of stairs and a broken-down lift.
Then there’s the party itself – are the chefs able to cater for different dietary needs? Is there sign language interpretation on hand for the speeches? Is there a chill-out room for people getting sensory overload when the band gets loud? Has anyone involved those guests in the arrangements in the first place?
God expects his Great Banquet to have wheelchair access. Because otherwise people will be left on the outside, and God is very, very unimpressed when that happens.
We’re called to be a church that welcomes all but that goes beyond simply issuing an invite and expecting everyone to fit in. Instead, we should incarnate that Great Banquet and proactively find ways to make sure that everyone is truly welcome and able to participate, volunteer or lead to their fullest. What if, in other words, we treated the parable of the banquet not just as a story that’s spiritually true but also as something that’s lived out in our church communities.
If the gospel you preach isn’t good news for everyone then a piece of it is missing. If we’re not proclaiming jubilee for those who’ve been imprisoned by a lack of resources and a lack of understanding, by the ableism of the fallen world around us, then we’ve reduced the words of Jesus to a get out of jail free card. And if the love of Christ only extends as far as the edges of our comfort zones, then it’s not the love of Christ.
We carry with us invitations to the heart of the Kingdom of God. After all, he wants to be known by all his people, no barriers.
Do we work with him on this?
Are we loyal and eager servants, preparing the feast so that all can participate?
Or are we bouncers?
(There are more posts on this subject here.)