Luke 14:15-24 - History's Failure to Reach Paradise
One of those at table with Jesus said to him, "Blessed is the one who will dine in the Kingdom of God." He replied to him, "A man gave a great dinner to which he invited many. When the time for the dinner came, he dispatched his servant to say to those invited, 'Come, everything is now ready.' But one by one, they all began to excuse themselves. The first said to him, 'I have purchased a field and must go to examine it; I ask you, consider me excused.' And another said, 'I have purchased five yoke of oxen and am on my way to evaluate them; I ask you, consider me excused.' And another said, 'I have just married a woman, and therefore I cannot come.' The servant went and reported this to his master.
Then the master of the house in a rage commanded his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame.' The servant reported, 'Sir, your orders have been carried out and still there is room.' The master then ordered the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled. For, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner.'"
When Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of God, there is always a certain connotation of mystery. He usually teaches about the Kingdom in parables and those, by definition, make you see a certain aspect but never the whole reality. Part of it always remains in the impenetrable glare of mystery. The myriad of parables with which Jesus wants to enlighten His listeners about the character of His Kingdom shows how multifaceted it is, but it also proves how eager Jesus is to make us see through the mystery of the Kingdom more and more clearly. Sometimes it seems as if the ignorance about the Kingdom among His disciples is one of Jesus’ greatest sorrows. In fact, it is precisely His mission to reveal to mankind the mystery of salvation which is enclosed in the Coming of His Kingdom.
We want to enter His Kingdom, do we not? We want to go to heaven, we want to be happy, we want to be Jesus’ friends. God, on the other hand, most certainly wants to welcome us there. When He created us, He ordered our instincts in a way that they would tend for the good and the true and the beautiful. Together with our creation came the invitation to live at His side. Thus, God was to quench our inherent thirst for happiness with His eternal embrace, the embrace by the one who is the source of happiness.
Alas, read today’s gospel! “None of those men who were invited will taste my dinner.” What mysterious aspect of the Kingdom is Jesus trying to uncover for us today? If God wants us to go to heaven happily, and we want nothing more than to be happy - where did the tragedy of hell come from? What happened between God’s invitation and man’s rejection? Why do our instincts lead us so often to a “newly purchased field,” or to a “yoke of oxen,” or to a “married woman,” rather than to “dine in the Kingdom of God?”
The only reasonable answer is that, after our creation and God’s invitation to be with Him, a great rupture took place. This rupture, sin, broke something in us and distorted our instinctive desire for happiness. We still long for happiness, we can still feel the attraction of God’s invitation, but we do not gravitate towards Him so easily anymore. Other goods and truths and beauties constantly seem more important to us.
This is an important aspect in order to understand the Kingdom of God. What Christ revealed is not simply the fact that men are invited into heaven. “Kingdom of God” is not a mere synonym for “heaven” or “paradise.”
Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of God is a paradise whose inhabitants had been struck by the rupture of sin, but who have been cured of it and restored in their dignity. The Kingdom of God is a dinner whose participants have been rescued from the “streets and alleys,” from the “highways and hedgerows.” The guests of that banquette did not arrive there thanks to the first invitation by which God had invited all mankind to happiness. This invitation is still inscribed deeply in our instincts; alas, nobody has found his way to the source of happiness by following these instincts alone. The first invitation was decisively distorted by the consequences of sin. Christ was the servant who “went out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town” and brought “the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame.” Christ’s Kingdom is the second and definite invitation to happiness.
We mentioned that our ignorance about the Kingdom of God causes Jesus great sorrow. In this case, the sorrow would consist in neglecting the difference between the first and the second invitation; between mankind's strive to reach paradise in our earthly history on the one hand, and Jesus' invitation to His Kingdom on the other. Jesus knows that we only seek happiness. Someone who does not know Him, seeks that happiness by following His instincts, naturally, and by hoping for paradise on earth. The history of mankind in large and the biography of each one of us are a testament to the tragic fact that this “first” attempt to reach paradise failed.
Man cannot make himself entirely happy. Jesus steps into the bleak scene of that realization. He steps into history. He steps into your life. And His revelation is a new light beam which points at the desire of your happiness: The rupture in your instincts can be healed - but by His grace alone. Eternal happiness is possible - but not in a earthly paradise. He has come to lead you there as King - but not in the political sense. The Kingdom of God is the rule of that King in your heart. His kingship restores your dignity, heals your instincts, entitles you to join the dinner. His Kingdom is the second invitation to become happy in God's loving embrace. To accept this invitation means to understand that He alone can lead you to lasting happiness. It means to understand that paradise awaits us.