Who invited them? Have you ever walked into a birthday party or social event, looked around the room, and found unexpected people there? Most of us would wonder…who invited that person? Why is he here? Who told her about it? We can be caught off guard when the event we thought was happening ends up with different people than we had envisioned. Now, I know not all of you are introverts…but for those that are…what do you begin to do? My guess is that you start checking out where the table is, who you could sit with and who you are most likely to carry on some sort of a conversation with…how you can avoid sitting in the middle of everything and go fairly unnoticed. It is likely you already had that planned before you arrived and with unexpected people, you have to re-adjust…and you don’t like re-adjusting. To throw another surprise into the room, the person you thought was the honoree actually isn’t…the party isn’t for who you thought…you can likely feel your eyes roll in the back of your head. If you have already been seen and there is no easy escape route, you look for the seat closest to the door with the least noticeable people so that a trip to the restroom can turn into getting lost and accidentally getting in your car and heading home.
For others of you…you might find a way to have a good time anyway when you see unexpected people. I mean, you can socialize with anyone so this won’t stop you. You will find the fun group to sit with, enjoy the company…you bring the party with you anyway. All is good until you find that the person being recognized is not what you thought and this event isn’t at all what it was supposed to be. You are likely frustrated and you make sure you talk loud enough about it so that those within ear shot know how ridiculous you think all this is. You will have a harder time leaving unnoticed because, well, you are noticed. But you can make a statement if you do have to leave. Things aren’t always as they seem…sometimes life happens, events change, and our world has to be…re-adjusted.
Eric found himself in a similar situation. He hears about this amazing event, THE event of the year. He has a place of honored guest. There is the best of the best there. The best food, the best music, the best people…this is THE place to be. This event was put together as a celebration, a festival…something wonderful has happened and the whole community needs to hear. There is a special guest and an award. This will be awesome. Eric’s invitation shows that he gets to sit at the head table with the special guest. Eric IS somebody at this event and that intrigues him. He can’t turn down the invitation – this is just too good to pass up. His desk is overloaded with work and he has other things to do…but this, this he makes time for. He jumps in his SUV, heads over to the place and finds a parking spot just for him. It IS awesome! He gets out and he sees one of his friends, they decide to walk in together. Neither of them has heard who the honored guest is…but as soon as Eric walks in, he sees him – all the way from across the room. It is him and he can’t believe it. Eric thinks the best thing for him to do is to turn around and leave NOW. This will not end well. The host of the party…the one that sent the invitation…the person that wanted Eric there runs after him…Eric continues to leave…he can’t believe this party is for this guy…and it is not happening today, not with Eric there. This guy doesn’t deserve a party or an invitation or even to be in town…this guy is a loser, a nobody, a complete and utter mess up. What Eric missed in the whole thing was…this party wasn’t even about that guy…this party was about the host…but Eric doesn’t understand that as he speeds away in his SUV. Eric missed the party because he didn’t understand the invitation.
This story of Eric, I adapted from the scripture I would like for you to read, maybe in a new and different way… Luke 15:1-2, 11-32.
Notice that Jesus is telling a story in response to something that has happened. This is the 3rdstory in the series, and likely the most well-known. In the audience were: tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees and scribes…and likely the disciples which may have fit in one of the first 2 categories. The religious leaders were frustrated and upset that Jesus is welcoming sinners and eating with them. How dare he! Remember that table fellowship is sacred and you wouldn’t want to be unclean by eating with the wrong people. So in order to answer that, Jesus tells the stories. This 3rdstory is what we call the parable of the prodigal son.
In most cases, we tell and hear the story from the prodigal son’s perspective. And he is one of the main characters in the story. The prodigal son insults his family, disgraces the family name, disrespects the land that is considered given by God, and spends his time doing things which are…well, less than acceptable. He likely makes friends but only keeps them when he has money. When the money runs out…and it always does if you spend it without care…he takes a job that is…disgusting. It is disgusting not because of the work, but because of his faith and heritage. He continues to disrespect and forget all that he is…he loses himself in it all, not just the money. He returns home and Dad does more than he should…he disgraces himself to run to his son to embrace him. Note that Zaccheus was the last person we looked at that was willing to disgrace himself by running in order to see Jesus…The son simply wants to be a slave, a servant, to have decent food and a place to lay his head. The father gives him more than he deserved, more than he could ever earn, more than anyone should be given by worldly standards…he gets his sonship. He gets to be a son…something he had thrown away, squandered, trampled, and set on fire…enjoying the flames at a campfire.
The second person in the story is, of course, the father. He is willing to let the son go off and do what he will. He doesn’t know that this son will ever return. But every day, he goes out and looks down the road for the son to return…though he continues to be disappointed day by day. Then…one day…it happens. His son returns and he takes off running down the road to give him the biggest bear hug ever. His son is back and it is a joyful day to celebrate! His son will not be a slave or servant…he is a son and a son he shall be. The father gives reckless grace in the face of a disaster…his son.
The third person…the older son. We don’t often like to talk about him. We love the idea that the prodigal son is loved so much and given a place back in the family. We hear and feel that warmth, that embrace, that welcome despite the mess that we are. We rejoice over the amazing grace of the father that overwhelms not only the son, but us, as the reader. We hear that the father has extravagant love for a sinner such as I. We want the story to just end with the feast. That would make it easier. But that isn’t where Jesus ended the story. Remember, Jesus is answering the issue of him welcoming and eating with sinners.
It is the older son that makes us uncomfortable, most likely. This son is…well…seemingly justified and we don’t know what to do with that. This son, the older, arrives to the feast…the party…the event that is THE festival. It is a party unlike any other. The problem is that this son isn’t the honored guest. This son…the good one…the one that never left his father…the one that didn’t stomp on his heritage…the one that was faithful even when it was hard…the one that put in the long hours and cared for his family…the one that was the responsible one…this is the one that doesn’t get a party…not even so much as a little birthday cake. The delinquent, wayward, irresponsible younger son is the one that gets the big event…the good son gets – NOTHING? He is furious. And we are uncomfortable with this story because we would be too. He did everything right, how dare the father do something for the son that disrespected him. Did the father not understand? Was the father playing favorites? What do we do with this? We want to drive away in our SUV and tell them to have a great time without us!
The problem, though, is that the son that stayed…the one that never left his father’s side…the one that was faithful through it all…he missed it. What he saw was a party for his brother that didn’t deserve anything except a swift kick in the rear. What he saw was a big celebration like no other for the son that had basically spit on the entire family in an attempt to get his way. What he missed was HIS place at the party. What he missed was the FATHER. He could have missed the love because his envy, his jealousy, his anger consumed him in an effort to prove he was the better child and deservedthe best.
What he missed was that he didn’t earn his place at the party any more than the younger son. What he missed was that while he was born a son he was not perfect. What he missed was that despite all that he had done right, that didn’t mean he got the best place at the head table as an honored guest. He got all that he had BECAUSE OF THE FATHER. He wanted to compare his place with others at the table without recognizing that he had a valued place at the table given to him by the one that loved him more than he could imagine. He wanted to prove his worth as better, when actually his worth was given to him by grace not by works. He got a place at the most extravagant table because he was loved…just like his brother.
And why not welcome everyone to the table? Why not have a seat for his brother? Who was he to judge who could sit at the table…it wasn’t his table, it wasn’t his feast? It was the father’s to give and he was given a place because all that the father had, he was willing to give. He was chosen and loved and welcomed. But he was willing to walk away from the table because he didn’t like who was on the guest list.
Are you grateful to be at the table? Have you decided who will be there…who is on the invited list…who will be gathered around…who is in and who is out…who is better, who is worthy, who is the deserving? If you think you know who is invited, you might be shocked. But instead of looking around the room, maybe you pull up a seat, take your place, and thank the Lord that he gave you a place…not because you earned or deserved it…but because you were loved more than you could ever imagine. Maybe you start telling people about the table rather than judging who is worthy. Welcome to the party…Jesus is throwing the most extravagant bash you could ever imagine…and I can’t wait to see who is there!