So who is welcome at God’s Party?
In Jesus’ parable about the great party (Luke 14) Jesus stretches the parameters of who is invited to be part of God’s new community almost to the breaking point. In the story the host invites all his friends to a great celebration. Everybody is invited – well, everyone the host knows and is friends with. Everybody is defined by who can reciprocate with a party of their own.
They are all keen on coming to the soiree, until the day of the party that is. Then, one by one, they start sending in their excuses:
“I’ve bought some property and the deal is closing this weekend. Next time for sure.”
“We are getting new computers at the office this weekend and I need to be there. I’m so sorry.”
“We just got engaged and my fiancé’s family is only in town for the weekend. Hope it’s not too late to say we aren’t able to make it.”
And before you know it, everybody has ‘called in sick’. And the thing is, all the excuses are reasonable. These things happen in our busy lives. But regardless of how good their reasons are for not coming, the host is furious. And so in Jesus’ story, the party coordinator is ordered to go to the halfway house in town and then to the Union Gospel Mission down the street and pack everybody that’s there into a rented bus and bring them. And, when there is still room, told to go down to the street church meeting in the park and bring all the homeless folks that meet there on Saturday night for sandwiches to the party as well and “don’t take no for an answer”.
Now when we ask who is invited to the party a second time, we find that everybody is invited – but this time the ‘everybody’ are all those folks who would never in their wildest dreams expect an invitation to this gala event (and in our wildest dreams we wouldn’t have expected them to be invited either). These folks don’t even have calendars, never mind appointments to manage! “The point is” Robert Farrar Capon writes in Kingdom, Grace, Judgement, “that none of the people who had a right to be at the party came, and all the people who came had no right to be there. Which means that the one thing that has nothing to do with anything is rights. This parable says that we are going to be dealt with in spite of our deservings not according to them. Grace as portrayed here works on the untouchable, the unpardonable and the unacceptable” (p289).
So who is invited to God’s party – everybody is…even you and I. You can imagine a conversation at that great blowout Jesus is promising to throw: two people meet that have known each other, but rarely seen ‘eye to eye’ on those things they thought should really matter to God. And one says to the other ‘I didn’t expect to see you here’. And the other responds with ‘I didn’t expect to see you here either!’
In his book The Fidelity of Betrayal Peter Rollins retells the story this way:
The other day I had a dream. I dreamed I arrived at the gates of heaven, heavy-shut, pure oak, beveled and crafted, glinting sharp in the sunlight. St. Peter stood to greet me; the big man wore brown, smile set deep against his ruddy cheeks.
“You’re here,” he said.
“I am,” I said.
“Great to see you – been expecting you,” he smiled. ”Come on in.”
He pushed gently against the huge door; it swung silently, creakless. I took a couple of steps forward until, at the threshold, one more step up and in, I realized I wasn’t alone. My friends had joined me, but they hovered behind, silently, looking on. None spoke. I realized only I could speak. I looked at them; some were Christians, some Hindus, some Buddhists, some Muslims, some Jews, some atheists, (some down and out homeless, some street walkers), some God knows what. I stopped, paused. A hesitant St. Peter looked at me, patiently, expectantly.
“What about these guys?” I asked him. ”My friends. Can they come?”
“Well,” he replied, soft in the still air, “you know the rules. I’m sorry, but that’s the way things are. Only the right ones can come in.”
I looked at him. He seemed genuinely pained by his answer. I stood, considering. What should I do? I thought about my reference points, and thought about Jesus, (the one born under suspicious circumstances), the outsider, the unacceptable, the drunkard, the fool, the heretic, the criminal, and I knew exactly where I belonged.
“I’ll just stay here then too,” I said, taking my one foot out of heaven. And I’ll tell you, I’m sure I saw something like a grin break across St. Peter’s face, and a voice from inside whispered, “At last” (p. 172).