In his keynote address At Global Access 2020 Rev. Steve Bundy explains how the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14) along with its preamble are meant to confirm that the kingdom of God welcomes and empowers people of all ethnicities as well as people of all backgrounds and abilities. He notes that, in Jesus’ preamble to the banquet, he is not speaking in generalities; he is personally and powerfully addressing the host of the banquet directly. By the same token, our ministry can be all the more powerful when it is personal.
The parable serves to dissuade its hearers from falling into the practice of enjoying fellowship strictly with the elite or excluding people that may be on the fringes of our churches or society in general. The wide range of less privileged guests Jesus adds to the VIP list: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, serves as an indication that interacting with a wide cross-section of the diverse people that God created and loves is important to becoming Christ-like. Some may already be fellow citizens of God’s kingdom and others may someday join us there if we compel them to come in.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the prospect of becoming an inclusive ministry or adapting to various people’s needs but it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Rev. Bundy offers a reminder that in Jesus’ day, inviting someone in and breaking bread with them was one of the simplest ways to show love and acceptance. Such a simple gesture is what Jesus seems to be suggesting through the parable of The Great Banquet. Rev. Bundy shares a similar modern-day example of his son, who lives with significant disabilities being invited to a birthday party and how incredibly moving this was for the whole family.
Rev. Bundy notes that the gospel becomes real for those who do not yet know Jesus based on how those who do, live out their lives. I identify with this as while I do not remember much that my youth pastor preached, I do remember that he was willing to lift me and my wheelchair onto the youth group bus and do anything and everything to make sure that I knew I was a valued member of the Youth Group.
The parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14:12 – 24 indicates that it is not enough simply to invite those on the margins. Jesus instructs us to compel them to come in, save a place for them and wait for them to show up. Jesus stresses the importance of welcoming people, including them and fostering belonging without expecting anything in return, because the kingdom of God does not function according to the economy of exchange. We must model that we are not required to give anything or pay back what we receive from Christ.
The banquet table, the table of the Lord or the fellowship of the church will be an effective place to receive the good news if there people have opportunity not only to hear the good news of the gospel but to see it in action. Rev. Bundy points out that Christian ministry with soul sustaining power does not end with evangelism. We should not conceptualize the Great Banquet, the table of the Lord or the fellowship of believers as a one-time glimpse of God’s kingdom. For it to be optimally beneficial it needs to be a place of continual nourishment or discipleship.
When people are continually nourished through relationships with people who accept, love and disciple them, a sense of empowerment will grow. For someone who is on the fringes of the church or the wider community because they experience disability or are marginalized in other ways, the truly transformative power of the gospel may be found in the countercultural value and empowerment of those parts of the body, those parts of the church, which the apostle Paul says seem to be weaker. In actuality we cannot function properly without these members.