Growing up, I learned quite a few Bible stories at church, at school, and at home. Many of these stories were historical in nature, but some of my favorites were the parables—earthly stories with heavenly meanings, used by Christ to connect to listeners, answer questions (and raise others), and teach an important lesson. I loved hearing the story and trying to guess what the meaning might be. And the fun of that guessing game doesn’t go away now that I’m older. You might think that by now I would know what each of the stories mean, but each can apply on so many levels that there is always something more to be learned.
Sometimes a certain image or phrase from one of these parables will be brought to the forefront of my mind by something that’s happening in my own life. This is the case today; I’m thinking of a line from the parable (found in Luke 14) of the man who invited many guests to a feast: “A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.”
The story goes on to show that each of the invited guests offered a different excuse and would not come to the feast; outraged, the host sends his servant back into town to round up anyone who is willing to come in.
This always confused me as a child. How could the man plan a party without knowing how many people were coming? And if he waited so long to invite them, why was he upset that his guests had other things to do? If someone invites me to something at the last minute and I already have other plans, I hope they won’t think of me as ungracious for failing to keep my schedule open! Wasn’t it alright for one of the guests to excuse himself because of a pending oxen sale? Wasn’t another guest’s wish to be with his bride on his wedding night an acceptable excuse?
What the text doesn’t tell you—and what Jewish listeners of the day would have known without being told—is that this invitation would not have been the first one sent by the great man to his guests. In Middle Eastern societies of that time (and perhaps still today, although I really have no idea), it was traditional for a host to send two invitations to his guests: one with plenty of advance notice, so that the guests had plenty of warning and the host had plenty of time to prepare, and a second one just as everything came together and was ready for the guests to enjoy. The guests receiving the second invitation were those who had already accepted the first.
Thus the invitation we hear in the text is not so much “Would you please come to my party?” as it is “The time has come! We’ve made everything ready for you, so continue coming as you said you would. Come and enjoy what has been prepared for you.”
This line—”Come; for all things are now ready”—has a beautiful ring to it, and it’s on my mind this morning because I’ve been preparing to host a friend and the moment has finally arrived.
The first invitation was originally issued four years ago, and we’ve been talking about it on and off ever since. Quite a bit has happened between now and then, but the plans have remained quietly in the background, waiting to become a reality. It’s something we’ve both been looking forward to for a long time.
Now, finally, all things are ready. The floors are swept, the sheets are changed, the dusting is done, the bathroom is clean. Tickets have been purchased. Reservations have been made. Details have been planned.
So very, very much goes into hosting a guest! Back home, I know preparation begins at least a week before important guests arrive. We want to be able to say to our guests, “Come; for everything is now ready.” We want it to be perfect for them. But the work is never a burden. We don’t gripe about the extra cooking and cleaning for the same reason that we invited our guests in the first place: because we love them.
Yes, our love for our guests and our excitement over their arrival makes any little bit of extra work seem like a breeze. It’s a labor of love that fades into the greater anticipation of their presence with us for a while. Sometimes, it can even seem like working harder and preparing better can hasten the guests’ arrival. And even if this is not the case, at least it helps us pass the time.
I can see, though, why the host in the parable was so upset! He wasn’t sending out last-minute invitations; he was simply trying to round up everyone who had committed to coming. Imagine his frustration when his servant reported back to him that everyone for whom he had cooked and cleaned and lavishly decorated his home had now decided that they had better things to do! No wonder he ordered his servant to get back out on the street and bring in anyone with an appetite. What was he going to do with all those slaughtered oxen otherwise?
Luckily for me, there are no such worries here. My second invitation will not be met with an excuse or a refusal. My friend is coming as she said she would, and I couldn’t be more excited.
In fact, by the time you read this, she’ll already be here.