August 25, 2019 onboard MS Zaandam
Isaiah 66, 18-21 + Psalm 117 + Hebrews 12, 5-13 + Luke 13, 22-30
The question that starts this episode in Luke’s Gospel is asked by people who already feel very certain that they are among the few. They are hoping Jesus will say, “Yes”, securing their self-satisfied position. Jesus was not about to be trapped into playing their game of exclusion. In response, he uses a parable to confuse their rigid attitudes.
Jesus knew very well the writings of the Prophets, and so did they, because they were the religious elite. With this parable he reminds them quite subtly of how the Book of Isaiah concludes. It is a nightmare for nationalists and clerical elites as Isaiah has God gathering all kinds of people to share with them the secrets of divine glory. So, Jesus picks up on that theme as he describes the guest list to the horror of those who ask the question. They are going to come from everywhere, even the people who are least respectable. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that those are the ones he prefers to eat with.
What is being revealed to us is that God is not content with a small group of the elect. Historically, we should hear this and understand that God is not content with just the chosen people, Israel, who think they should be first. What we have to imagine when we proclaim this Gospel today is that God is not going to be content with just those of us who made a little sacrifice to attend Mass on this ship today. God is not going to be content with those who might claim that they are really good and worthy of acceptance. The rule keepers are not going to be the only ones who gain entrance. We have no right to think exclusively and judge that someone else different from us may not be invited and welcomed.
When you think about the great glory of God, it seems impossible to image that without the great variety of people, cultures, and creatures that populate this universe. The fact is, Jesus came up with this story responding to people who were quite willing to limit the number at the heavenly banquet. It is precisely those, he says, who want to limit the number who may very well be told that they are unknown. The story is a direct warning.
Those who want to lock the door are likely to be the ones on the outside of the door they want to lock. They may well protest that they ate and drank with him, that he taught in their streets. But, they do not claim to have assumed his values. What we get here is a picture of God’s banquet as the most ecumenical, international, interreligious gather space in all the universe. The privileged rank here is found at the bottom. The guest will first include the people who don’t want it limited. The only people locked out are those who think they’ve earned the key that gets them in and the riffraff out. The truth is that they would be just as unhappy inside as outside, so in the mind of Jesus, there is no point in letting them ruin the party.