How Not to Respond to an Evite: Reflections on Luke 14:25-33
So if Jesus is warning us against accepting invitations we don't have the goods to see through to the end, is he giving those who didn't come to the banquet a pass? Is he giving them a back-handed compliment for their honesty? Are we to get from this that it is a viable option for us to say, "I don't want to come to the banquet because I have other priorities"? Is it okay to admit, "I don't want any part of carrying the cross? I don't have what it takes to answer the invitation to follow Jesus? I don't have a strong enough spirit of service, and I lack the depths of compassion for others to be a disciple?"
We can certainly respond that way, but doing so leads us to part three of our play. The part where you and I live for ourselves, constructing our own little towers and waging our own little wars. The part where we end up in a dark and isolated place, where, like lost sheep, we risk spiritual death unless we are 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 party. I won't be there." The only way to find joy, peace, and a repaired relationship with God and others is by living for others out of our love for God. That is a bedrock conviction of the entire gospel of Luke. Discipleship comes at a cost. But staying home and not answering the invitation comes at an even higher cost.
We do not have what it takes, out of our own human resources, to see this sacrificial way of living through to the end. The good news is that God, working through Jesus, the Good Shepherd, helps us to persevere in the life of discipleship when our energy flags and our patience reaches its expiration date.
When the host sends servants around to let us know the banquet is ready, the best response might be: "Great idea to have a party. I'm on my way!"
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.