Welcome to the Table!
Stephen Hawking conducted an experiment in 2009 to test time travel. He rented a hall, catered food, bought champagne, had decorators and florists do as they do best, and at the appointed time he was ready with cameras rolling, waiting for the first guests to arrive. He theorized that if time travel was real, it would not matter when his party was, anyone who was able to time travel would arrive on time, which is why he sent out invitations the next day. Well, no one showed up, and Professor Hawking declared that time travel, and certainly time travel into the past, was therefore impossible. Unless some poor soul had their coordinates wrong, Stephen Hawking was probably correct in his assessment, but then the professor never anticipated having any guests show up in the first place.
Luke's gospel, chapter 14:12-24 (and Matthew's 22:2-13), also have a story about a person who wanted to host a party, but as the feast became ready, no one arrived: all the invited guests were busy and sent their excuses. We read that the banquet host wanted their tables lined with people to partake in the abundance before them, and when the first to have been invited declined to attend, only then were the doors opened to the poor, the needy, the blind, lame, widowed, orphaned. When those came and there was still space, then we read that the invitation was expanded again to people in other lands, different cultures. This makes for a stratified and classist parable. In an ancient culture with such focus on hospitality, the presence of such a gradually unfolding message of welcome feels reluctant and slow to respond. Although in the end the invitation of welcome to all has been extended, at first the host is closed off to such an idea and only expands the invitation out of hurt feelings and spite against his peers.
This is a difficult parable – it is easy to sympathize with the guests who send their regrets. One of the hallmarks of current culture is the fervent wish that someone we may have plans with cancels them before we do; canceled plans give us the perfect excuse to stay home, take a break, get a moment to catch our breath and rest. Just like the invited guests in the story, we, too, can easily make light of an invitation - to a concert, a celebration, a picnic, a graduation, a book club or study group. There is always someone else who can attend; we are not necessary. Besides, isn't serving God's kingdom serious business? Surely something as fun as a banquet feast could not be included in our Christian life! But that is exactly the point - the kingdom of God is a joy to be a part of, and we must make certain that we continually invite everyone to participate.
~Rev. Andrea Joy Holroyd