This sermon is one of three using ideas from Scott Chrostek's sermon series "R.S.V.P.: Responding to God's Invitation with Power and Grace."
Among the many things we Christians do when we answer God's call on our lives is to tell people the gospel of Jesus Christ -- the good news that God loves them and through Jesus, has provided a way to heal the broken relationship between people and God. In fact, it's a part of the call that's unique to us. Many people of many faiths or of no faith help their fellow human beings. But only Christians share the invitation of Christ to come and follow him on the path that leads to a reunion with our Creator.
And this parable of the guests who refuse their invitation to a great feast can show us a couple of things about that call and those who respond to it, which in turn might make us think about how we share that invitation.
The story before our pair of verses here is that a man has invited people to a great banquet and when he sends them word that it's ready, they demur with a variety of excuses. One guy's bought some land; "Please accept my regrets," he says. Another just picked up some oxen; "Please accept my regrets," he says. Another just got married; he doesn't say anything. Either he figures no more explanation is necessary or he's in more of a hurry than the other guys. Eventually every guest makes some excuse about not coming, so the banquet host gets mad.
In his hospitality-based culture, the guests' behavior is an insult. None of them named an emergency or anything that might cause a person to cancel at the last minute, and in this society that was more than just an inconvenience or a disappointment. It was disrespect and a snub.
So get out there, the host tells his servants. Find the crippled and the poor and the beggars and invite them into my banquet. I'd rather eat with the riff-raff than those people I talked to first. The servants do this, but they report there is still room. Go out into the roads and get anyone you see, the host says. I don't care if they're walking out the city gate, you get them to come! My NRSV translates the word he uses as "compel," which we will pay more attention to in a minute.
Now, this first group, the beggars and such. Someone able to throw a banquet, as well as someone able to turn down an invitation to one, has one characteristic of which we may be certain: They're not hurting for food. They've got enough extra to invite other people over, or they've got enough they don't have to take advantage of every meal they may be offered.
Beggars do not have that luxury. The average beggar has not just bought a piece of property or a bunch of oxen, and if he has just gotten married, his answer to the invitation is probably something like, "Can the wife bring her family too?" Just telling them about the banquet is enough to get them moving towards it in whatever way they have available to them. There are some people who respond to the gospel message in this way. They're so needful of the gospel message of the love of God that we don't need to do much more than tell them it's there and then they outrun us to get there.
Now, that second group of people might have need of the free food or they might not. After all, they're just random passers-by. So the host says, "Compel them to come." One meaning of compel, of course, is "force." But that makes little sense in this context. Other than unreasonable parents since the beginning of time who expect children to consume horrid things like Brussels sprouts, it's probably not possible to actually force anyone to come to a banquet. And once you force them there and go back out to force someone else, who says the first draftee has to stay?
There's another meaning for compel, though, that has more to do with a more internal drive to do something. We can see this when we look at the similar word "compulsion" or "compulsive." People with compulsive behaviors find that they have to do them, no matter whether they really need to do them or not. Tony Shaloub's character Adrian Monk had such a disorder when it came to cleanliness.
We might think of this as more like a person hearing or seeing something and feeling, "I've gotta know more about this!" Think of Moses and the burning bush.
And that's when it comes down to us. How do we say things and do things that reflect on our lives and Christians in such a way that when people see them, they say, "I've gotta know more about this Jesus!" Figuring that out? Well, that's what each of us must do. If our simple given invitation doesn't reach, then it's up to us to learn and pray and discern how we might extend it so it does.