There is a parable of Jesus which illustrates the next aspect of salvation to consider. In Luke 14, Jesus was invited to eat a meal at the house of a leader of the Pharisees. Perhaps even a member of the ruling Sanhedrin. A trap was laid testing whether Jesus would heal on the Sabbath. Jesus challenged their understanding of mercy and healed the man. Then Jesus noticed the other guests jockeying for position by choosing to sit as close to the leader as possible. In response, he taught about taking to least position – “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11, NASB95) While there are important lessons here, they also set the table for a greater lesson.
Jesus continued and advised the leader to invite those who could not repay him in return. Specifically, “when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13–14, NASB95) The common practice of the day was to invite guests that would advance your own standing, business, and influence. A defined list of those “in” and those “out.” Jesus challenged the leader to invite the “outs.” In response, one of the other guests said “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15, NASB95) All these incidents, the test and healing, the jockeying for position, the advice to invite the “outs” set the stage for the parable found in Luke 14:16-24.
In the parable, a man invited some people over for dinner. Once the meal was prepared, he sent his servant to let the invited folks know. All of them provided excuses and refused to attend. The host, angry at their refusal, said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” (Luke 14:21, NASB95) The servant did so and reported that there was still room. “And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel (NLT – urge) them to come in, so that my house may be filled. ‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’” (Luke 14:23–24, NASB95)
There is a principal of Biblical Interpretation that parables have a singular primary meaning. But I wonder if this parable doesn’t break the mold. The primary point often cited is that those first invited and subsequently refuse are excluded. They are the “outs” now. And some have used that understanding for the evil purpose of antisemitism. But behind that surface understanding is a larger and more inclusive point. The Kingdom of God, the salvation offered through Jesus, is open to all who accept the invitation.
To be fair, looking across the ages, Christians have not always done well portraying the Gospel’s inclusive invitation. Sometimes the message and invitation was/is mixed with that of the sending culture. To accept the Gospel also meant adopting the proclaimer’s ways of life. More often, however, this failure was passive. Not going to the streets, alleys, highways, and hedges where the poor, crippled, blind, lame, rough, and sinful wait for their invitation and for someone to care.
Salvation is open to all. From the poorest of the poor, the vilest of sinners, to the upper crust of society, and everyone in-between. There are no disqualifiers or stipulations or prerequisites or conditions or prejudice concerning God’s invitation. This doesn’t mean that everyone is saved or will be saved but that all have the opportunity. All are invited, just as they are at this very moment.
This challenges us. Challenges me. It is one thing to think and say it. But is it real for us? What about the homeless we encounter. Or the foreign-born folks we encounter while shopping. Or the parts of the city we seldom go because their poverty scares us. But long before we invite them to the good news, we need to accept and care about them as people. They’re not just a mission field, not just a place to do something for God, not just a way to feel good about ourselves. When we go in that attitude, we’re not any better than those jockeying for the best seats at the table.
All are invited, the challenge is living it out.