15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” 16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ 19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ 22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” Luke 14.15-24 (NIV)
A heart-breaking story in “prosperous” HK surfaced this week. It details the routine of an old lady who is nearly 80. She lives in low income housing and her only means of paying her rent was to pick up cardboard boxes dawn to dusk. In this “prosperous” and “relatively just” city, 70% of the elderly do what this lady does to make ends meet. This is the city where the chief executive freely admits that democracy would allow the poor to dominate, indicating that the poor occupies a substantial part of the population. I use words of prosperity and justice to describe HK because those have been the words used by many of the upper middle class church leaders there. In contrast, Jesus told a parable in Luke 14.15-24.
Since I’m writing the Luke commentary in Chinese, I’m going to share my reflection in this blog. Let’s see what Jesus had to say about prosperity and the kingdom. Someone told Jesus in a banquet that those who would eat at the messianic banquet were the blessed/happy ones. Jesus told a parable in reply. He talked about a rich host opening a banquet and the host invited all the usual rich people. However, everyone unexpectedly made excuse not to go in Luke 14.18-20. The excuses ranged from having bought a field to having bought some animals to having gotten married. The order of field, oxen and marriage is interesting in that the excuses moved from financial to marital. The buying of field came from the upper class of Jesus’ day. The buying of oxen was due to the need to plow a large plot of land. While the ones about purchase indicate wealth, marriage seems more basic. The excuses then would seem more and more reasonable, but yet, it seems like none of excuses made here were reasonable. Why in fact would a new marriage prevented one from attending the banquet? This parable then is the mockery against those who made excuses. It is important to note that the two analogies about the field and oxen put the emphasis on wealth because of the setting of the real banquet Jesus was eating. Such banquets were the occasion one shows off his wealth and high society connections. All the excuses were of the same kind: they had other more important priorities.
Wealth played a prominent role because Jesus was sitting among the rich. The host then sent his slave to invite more to come in the parable. The places where the slave went in Luke 14.21 were probably where the outsiders hung out because what the slaves found were the down and out people. These underprivileged people would be a stark contrast with the first two excuse makers. The ability to buy a field and five oxen shows that they were men of some wealth but they didn’t go to the banquet. The Pharisee who hosted could certainly relate to this degree of wealth. The poor would be the last invited and they became more like those who were first invited, much like what Luke 13.29 says. This strange guest list is the same list Jesus used in Luke 14.13. Still there was room. So, the master told his slave to get people from all over to come in Luke 14.23. When Jesus taught this story, he taught it to the wealthy. This story seems like a story about the future when the kingdom would be released or is it?
I propose that the Jesus’ banquet setting in which he told the story suggests otherwise. It is about the present! It is a story to the faith community and its leader, the host of Jesus’ banquet, the Pharisee, that true faith community would have unexpectedly blessed people like those who were invited last in the messianic banquet. It is not just or even morally sound to not notice the social ills and the poor in any faith community. The story was also written to Theophilus who was a Roman official. He would be a patron to Luke and the church. He too would hold banquets. Would his banquet include those outside of his privileged circle?
When reading this story, if HK upper class church leaders and rich Christian politicians who pronounce “peace, peace” when the chief executive clearly stated this week that those who made low income had less rights, then pages of Luke 14 need to be torn out of their lectionaries and their Bibles because that would be the only way we can say that the HK society is “prosperous” and “just”. Jesus wouldn’t have said the same thing. True prosperity is to allow the earthly faith community to reflect the value system of the messianic banquet. Anyone denouncing the effort to fight for the (democratic) rights of the poor is immoral and anti-Christian. Instead of all the popular cheap unity many Christian leaders are calling for right now in HK, I propose that we don’t unite with such false gospel preachers. Instead, we need to call leaders into account for supporting the system and the (Christian) politicians. This is no time for cheap unity. This is the time for a clear division for the blatantly right and wrong value systems. Think about that!