While doing some reading for a particular class at the seminary, I came across a portion of the Scripture that I had read before, but which somehow surfaced in a new light. This is one of the reasons why I love the Bible. It never changes, yet every single time we approach it, it sheds light, and we gain a new perspective on it. The Holy Spirit speaks directly to us. God’s whisper blows in such a gentle way into our souls and minds that we lean forward, stay still, and listen to what that sweet voice is trying to teach us.
Luke 14 presents us with the Parable of the Dinner. If you are not familiar with it, allow me to introduce it to you: There was a man who, one day, decided to throw a huge dinner party for his friends. The guests received the invitations. Everything was set and ready for the dinner party. We assume this was a rich man because we read that when the time arrived, he sent his slave to get his guests (Lk.14:17). Something unplanned occurs: Each one of the guests excused himself or herself from the party. The Bible tells us that “they all alike began to make excuses. (14:18)” Evidently, this made the rich man angry. All the planning, all the food, the music, and the table were ready for the guests; everything was in place. What caught my attention is the reaction the owner of the house had. When he heard this, he ordered his slave to do something “unusual.” It is precisely this that caught my attention, and it is what I want to share with you today if you would allow me to do so.
The Bible tells us that the command the servant received was the following:
“Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”
Lk. 14:21 NASB
The rich man commanded his servant to do something quite unusual. This is precisely where we can gain powerful insight today.
Go out at once… Lk. 14:21a
We are not supposed to remain within the walls of our very well crafted castle called religion. Somehow, we managed to turn our relationship with Christ into a week-in-week-out religion. We have come out with all sort of rules and preconceptions we ask for those who seek grace to live by and align to, and failure means exclusion. We are no longer moved to compassion towards those who have not experienced grace.
We have created a market out of our faith. A market that rarely includes those we have come to call “the unchurched.” The Parable of the Dinner reminded me that we are to go out and bring in those we have alienated. The key words in the master’s command are “at once“. There is no time to lose; we are commanded to stand up and go out of our castles and palaces “at once“.
The only way in which people will experience God’s love is through our acts of grace and mercy. People out there are not in need of yet another sermon. We are not called to deliver powerful, touching and transforming speeches, filled with emotion, in hopes that humanity will change. Acts of mercy and compassion are the means by which humanity will know the transforming power the gospel has. As Michael Card and John Michael Talbot gracefully crafted in song, Jesus painted our life with mercy and charity. Moreover, that is what society needs to see, in tangible and practical ways.
The Sphere of Influence
“into the streets and lanes of the city.” Lk. 14:21b
The command was not to “send the word” but rather to go personally “at once.” The order was particular; the servant was to go to the streets and lanes in search of people and bring them to the master’s table. If there is something that you can surely find in the streets and alleys of our cities today, it is homeless people. If we were to go to the streets, alleys, and lanes of the inner city, we would find drugs, prostitution, violence, and people living under conditions no human being should ever have to live.
That order has not disappeared at all. It has remained untouched and unaltered for more than two thousand years. It has come down to us without a change. That’s what our commander-in-chief is asking of us. We need to get our hands dirty. Somehow, we’ve managed to settle within the boundaries of our four-walled churches. We expect people to come in, instead of us actually going out to the places where oppressed people are.
When we do leave the church walls and go into the streets, we do it with fashion; we deliberately choose those areas where the risk would be less, and we carefully plan every aspect of our “mission.”
“. . . and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”
Lk. 14:21 NASB
Once the distinguished guests declined the invitation, the head of the household extended it to the most unlikely people. The host ordered his servant to go out and bring in those who were in great need. He literally commanded his servant to go out and reach those who depended on others for support; this invitation included the miserable, the shabby, the beggar.
The new guest list was about to be extended. Not only was the rich man inviting the poor over for dinner; he was also inviting in the crippled, the maimed, the handicapped, and the mutilated. Also, the blind was invited to dine with the head of the household. Here, the text gives us something more. The Greek word Jesus used to refer to the visually disabled is the Greek word typhlos; which literally means blind, but it also has another connotation. Typhlos can also be translated as “incapable of comprehending.”
Today, we as Christians face a tremendous challenge: accurately communicating the Gospel to a society that lacks understanding. Out in the world are hundreds of thousands of people who have not comprehended the absolute truth the Bible portrays: salvation through faith in Christ’s sacrifice. We are to present the Gospel in a fresh and dynamic way, without compromising it or denying its essence, to a postmodern society that wants to have nothing to do with religion.
We are asked to bring in not only the broken but also those who are not yet able to see the truth and comprehend it.
Also, the lame was expected to attend dinner. There is a difference between being crippled and being lame. The latter refers to some sort of disability people are born with, while the former refers to some kind of disability through injury people suffer. That being the case, we are called to bring in those who have been injured by life, people, and also by the Church.
We are not responsible for their healing, but we are responsible for bringing them into an atmosphere of love, into that place where the presence of God may show up and do what only He can do: pour oil into their wounds and heal them. According to the apostle Paul, we are responsible for restoring those who, for any given reason, have fallen (Gal. 6:1). We are to do it “in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1).
There’s always room for one more
“And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room’” Lk 14:22 NASB.
The servant did exactly what he was ordered to do. Nowhere in the text do we read about the servant arguing and questioning his master’s command. He only obeyed. After he had done what he was commanded to do, he went back to the head of the household and reported back to him.
There is something special about this verse that I want to address. The servant had vision. Not only did he do as he was told, but once he had obeyed, he saw that there was still room for more people. The servant saw that the lives of the people who were at the table were to change forever; he saw that many more lives could be touched, due to his master’s invitation, and he spoke out.
He intently emphasized that there still was room for more. The place was set, the table was ready, the guest list had been altered, so why not expand the invitation even further?
A never-ending invitation.
“And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.”
It just gets broader
Once again, the slave got the order to go out and bring in even more people. This time, he was requested to go into the highways and the hedges. The sphere of influence was broadened.
This is the message that is interwoven between lines here. Once the Master saw that his slave did as he was told and that he even saw that there was room for more; the head of the household trusted his servant with the task of going further, of going to the town limits, and bringing more people to the table.
Once we have been faithful in doing the one thing God is asking of us, He then will enlarge the task. I do not know what it is the thing God has called you to do. All I can say right now is: put your hands to the task. If we are not doing good in bringing into the church the broken in our neighborhood, how in the world do we expect to pack stadiums and arenas? It is not the numbers but the people that really matter. I am convinced that in the end, God will not ask us how many stadiums and arenas we filled, but rather how many lives were impacted with the Gospel due to our obedience and allegiance to the commission He explicitly left for us in Mt 28:19-20.
A compelling task
“. . . and compel them to come in . . .”
The phrasing here is brilliant. The head of the household was ordering his servant to urge the people to his table. He was to force the broken, the needy, near and far, to come and take a place at the table that had been prepared.
We are to exert pressure upon ourselves in obeying our Master’s command and bring in the needy, the sick, and the broken. Surely, the slave did not put a gun to the people’s head and force them into his master’s house.
It was the invitation to have a proper and warm meal that drove the least and forgotten to the Master’s table. What the servant told them remains unknown. But this, we do know: people came. It is not about us, it has nothing to do with our speech, it is not our comfortable worship places, and it is not our failure-proven methods that will bring people to the body of Christ. It is the message of hope, of restoration, of forgiveness, of healing, of love that will drive people into the kingdom.
We need to emphasize the message of grace rather than the methods to make the Gospel known if we want to reach out to those in need. We are called to reach out to both the physically needy as well as the spiritually and emotionally needy. We are called to go outside and bring them in. That is all we’ve got to do. The rest is performed by God. We are not that important. Let us never forget that. We are only instruments, not the performers.
The real reason of the invitation
“. . . so that my house may be filled.”
There was a reason behind the order the slave received. The head of the household wanted his house to be filled. It should have been a big house.
The same is true today. God wants us to go out into our streets and alleys, find the broken, the forgotten, the injured, and bring them back home, where there’s not only warm meal waiting for them but restoration, healing, and forgiveness at no cost. Someone already paid the fee: Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, paid the price.
We want to see flocks of people packing our churches and filling our pews. The problem is, we want them to smell good and have economic influence; we basically want them to look just like us so that we may feel “comfortable” being around them.
Jesus is asking us to go to the poor and the crippled, to the blind and the lame, regardless of how they look. It is time for us to take a stand and be the hands and feet of Jesus.
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked, and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.” ― Mother Teresa
It is time for us to get our hands dirty. The time for us to start loving the broken, the needy, the sick, the blind, the lame, and the cripple has arrived. We have been placed by God in this time and place in history for such a time as this.
God’s command to us, in the words of Eugene H. Peterson, is still alive and active today:
“Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and wretched you can lay your hands on, and bring them here”