In this day and age, we receive all manner of evites: to meetings, parties, events and more. Upon receiving the evite are we excited? Were we just hoping for a day or evening off? Does this seem more obligation than interesting? Do we have to rearrange schedules? Are hoping something more exciting comes along? We have choices – delete, never open, don’t answer, answer with regrets, or accept. And then come all the consequences of all those choices we make, intended or no. Does all this seem like a phenomenon of the internet age? Not really. It is as old as time and part of the gospel.
Luke describes this process of invitation and human response in chapters 14 and 15 of his gospel. It is like a play with three acts. Act 1 is the parable of the Great Feast – you know the outline. The king prepares the great feast and invites the guests, many of who answer with regrets as they have other things to do. So, the king sends servants out to the highways and byways to invite just everyone (Luke 14:21).
Act 2 is today’s gospel, often titled, “The Cost of Discipleship” in which Jesus talks about the consequences of accepting the invitation. At the end of it all, there is indeed the Great Feast – but Jesus is talking about getting from here to there. Even when one chooses to accept the invitation, there are still lots of other choices to be made. In the gospel, Jesus makes his point with some startling hyperbole: you can choose your earthly family, or you can opt for the heavenly family. Choose those this life but be ready to pickup and carry the cross. And before any of those choices, count the costs. Are you willing and able to pay the cost for your choices of discipleship?
What stands out for people is that image of “carrying the cross.” Often, we think of it as the sufferings for following Christ – life as a doormat, abused, and dismissed. But I would offer to you a different image: a life in which one uses gifts, talents, and time on behalf of Christ and the community. That stewardship and commitment will bring joy and fulfillment – as well as sacrifice, complexity and inconvenience. Some will praise you, others think you holier-than-thou, and maybe just shrug their shoulders as to why you would dedicate such little free time to that “thing….” Your commitment to ministry will take up free time, make you miss some other invitations, absorb spare energy – and from time to time bring to the point you wonder if you can continue, if it is worth it, and why you’re doing it. A thousand crosses large and small. Maybe that is why Jesus invites us and then is warning us off, or at least saying make sure we have the goods and perseverance to go the distance?
If the people who accepted the invitation, get a warning, what about those who refuse the invitation? What about the people that will take a pass on the invitation? “Thanks for the invite, but I have other priorities…I am too tried to carry any crosses. I do not have what it takes…. I don’t feel called to serve…. I am low on compassion… I am not the disciple type.” Lots of possible responses. Are they getting a minor compliment for their honest self-assessment? And so ends Act 2.
Act 3 opens to the parable of the Lost Sheep. Rather than thinking of the little lamb who wanders off, think of those who turned down the invitation and chose to love for themselves, constructing their own little towers and waging their own little wars. The ones who end up in a dark and isolated place, where, like lost sheep, risk spiritual death unless found and rescued.
Does that sound too grim? Too melodramatic? I don’t think so. I think it’s a realistic counting of the cost. The cost of not following Jesus, not coming to the banquet, not carrying the cross. What a pity it would be for us to respond to God’s evite in this way: “Great idea to have the heavenly banquet. I have other priorities right now – raincheck?”
Saying yes to God’s invitation to the Great Banquet is a journey from here to there in which one finds joy, peace, and a right relationship with God. It is a path of living for others out of our love for God. That is a bedrock conviction of the entire gospel of Luke. It is also the bedrock conviction that we do not answer the invitation and make the journey out of our own human resources alone. There will be days we don’t think we can persevere in the life of discipleship, when our energy flags and our patience reaches its expiration date. We feel a little lost.
That is when we need to recall that we are gifted and graced. And beyond that which we are called to well steward in this life there is more – as the first reading promises: the wisdom and grace of the Holy Spirit accompanies us and makes our paths on earth straight. And even if we get off path and a little lost, the Good Shepherd is always searching for us. Just have to want to be found, again take up the cross, and journey on.
Discipleship comes at a cost. But staying home and not answering the invitation comes at an even higher cost.
Invitations to the Great Banquet come in many forms. The stirring of our hearts at the stories of others and we want to help. An article in the bulletin calling for ministry volunteers. An event in the parish that provides fellowship. Prayer Groups. Passing on the faith to our children in our Faith Formation program. Being an RCIA sponsor. Attending Bible Study. Lots more.
All are invitations. Accept and choices will still have to be made, schedules rearranged, and more interesting and exciting invitations will show up. But are they invitations to the Great Banquet? As my dad often said: “The main thing is making sure that the main thing remains the main thing.”