Perhaps you’ve seen the movie “Babette’s Feast”. If you haven’t, the movie is available in the church library. It’s a VHS cassette, so if you don’t have a VCR then you can’t watch it. At any rate, the movie is about two Danish women named Martina and Philippa. They are a pastor’s daughters and have spent their life feeding the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind in their little village. A helper from France named Babette has been at their side for fourteen years.
One day Babette receives news that she has won the lottery: 10,000 French francs. Instead of using the money to return to Paris and her lost lifestyle, Babette decides to spend it preparing a delicious dinner for the sisters and their small congregation on the occasion of what would have been Martina and Philippa’s father’s 100th birthday. Babette never tells anyone, but she spends her entire winnings on the feast.
As the various never-before-seen ingredients arrive, and preparations commence, Martina and Philippa begin to worry that the meal will become a sin of sensual luxury, if not some form of devilry. In a hasty conference, the sisters and the congregation agree to eat the meal, but to forego speaking of any pleasure in it, and to make no mention of the food during the dinner. It will be as if they had lost their sense of taste. What happens next, along with what happens in a number of subplots in the movie, is up to you to discover. I won’t spoil it.
The way Martina, Philippa, and the little congregation deal with the lavish meal of grace Babette prepares is much like how sinners deal with our heavenly Father’s lavish meal of grace. What triggers Jesus to tell this parable is one man’s response to what Christ says just before today’s Gospel begins. The man’s response to Jesus’ request to invite the dregs of society to the banquet table is, Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!
If that man only knew what he meant by what he said. God the Father invites many to His banquet of grace. Many will not heed the invitation: Come, for everything is now ready. When the servant says everything, he means everything. Even the invitation is given personally by his servant. All those invited have to do is get themselves to the banquet and get the food in their mouths. Jesus calls the banquet great, meaning that many are invited as well as what those invited are fed. This banquet is better than a three-star Michelin gourmet dinner. The man giving the banquet spared nothing. The best of the best is ready for the greatest and the least.
When the servant cries: Come, for everything is now ready, are you ready? Or are you like the little congregation that once heard Martina and Phillipa’s father preach? Perhaps you are afraid the banquet will be too good to be true. Maybe the bait and switch is on. Christians are good at the bait and switch. We’ll get people into church by preaching sweet Gospel, then switch over to preaching against vices instead of preaching Christ crucified. We’ll turn the great banquet into a TV dinner. That’s a fit banquet for unworthy sinners.
Maybe there won’t be a banquet. We’ll tell them there’s something here for them. Then when they’re here we’ll say there’s nothing really here for them until they clean up their act or stop all their pet sins. No Jesus for you. Come back when you’re righteous and holy enough for God. We’ll tell you when your personal righteousness is good enough for God, even though our own personal righteousness is never good enough for God.
No wonder they all alike began to make excuses. Sinful Christians, forgiven Christians, want to turn the banquet of grace into a banquet of merit. Those who give and those who receive don’t trust the banquet host. He might lie. He might serve a banquet so good that I’ll sin by showing up. What if the walls fell in and roof fell on me? I’ll stay home and tend to the sure things in life: my material possessions, my job, my marriage, and my family. Things tend to get too unpredictable at the banquet because I am not in control.
Perhaps that’s one of the big reasons why so many people spurn their personal invitation to the great banquet of grace where Jesus is host, chef, cook, butler, and food. God is in control of the banquet. He invites the people He wants to invite. He invites the poor and crippled and blind and lame. He even invites those in the highways and hedges. Those folks are the better class of losers, God’s kind of people.
The poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, and those in the highways and hedges are the marginalized of society. They also are the ones who see God’s grace much better than we do. When you have nothing to give to a God who expects nothing from you in return for all He does for you, then you sprint to the banquet table to dine in the presence of the God Who saves from sin, death, and hell. You see the benefits of dining with Jesus Christ. Jesus does you only good. He runs the Bushhog before you, so to speak, by clearing the way to the Father in His death for your sins and in His resurrection for your justification. The path to the Father is clear. You walk the way first trod by the Way Himself.
This banquet of grace is life in Jesus Christ. He puts the food and drink in your mouth, your ears, and your life, using His servants to put the good stuff in your life. All that’s left for you to do is render the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord…and even doing that is a gift of God He gives to you in His Word. Jesus Christ only dies for sinners. That’s the secret to the great banquet of grace. You can act like the meal is too good for your taste buds but, in time, God will have His way with you. He’ll see the game you play with Him. The excuses only go so far. You will be compelled to come to the banquet hall and dine at His side. He will feed you. You will eat and be satisfied for all eternity.
To him who lacks sense wisdom says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” What are you waiting for? Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!