“All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.” – Toni Morrison
First, I love Toni Morrison, her books, her mind.
I really like this quote from Ms Morrison. As I ponder it, I see the truth to it, universal truth. We might like to turn it around and say that paradises are defined by who is included. But once you set who is included, you’ve by necessity defined the larger group of who is excluded. I think that this is a universal human tendency, to create exclusive clubs we deem Utopian.
In light of this I have been reconsidering the parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14. Jesus attends a dinner party thrown by one of the leaders of the religious elite. While at this dinner party He tells three parables about dinner parties. Parables about exclusion.
In the first he addressed self-aggrandizement, self-righteousness. People coming in were taking it upon themselves to take the places of honor at the dinner table. Promoting themselves, setting themselves above others. In this they create exclusive space, say others are less worthy than they are, “I belong here, you don’t.”
In the next Jesus tells the host that when he has these parties he should invite the poor, the destitute, the unclean, the sinners. Why? Because there is no real benefit in being exclusive, it is in inclusion that God’s blessings come.
Now that we have the context, on to the parable I really wanted to talk about. The parable of the Great Banquet:
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’
We need to remember whom Jesus was addressing, the religious elite, those who made rules that kept people out. This is pointed out in the second parable in this narrative, the one where he tells the host he should’ve invited the poor, destitute, etc. This religious club, this exclusive utopia of society’s finest (we see this in the first parable of self-aggrandizement.) These are the people who wouldn’t associate with the other, those who other those different from them. These are the people who would assume themselves invited to the great banquet. It would never occur to this audience that the other would be invited, after all they didn’t fit the qualifications, that they had devised, for invitation.
In the parable all of the “invited” guests have refused the invitation. They have to do things that the exclusive, in-people do. They have their exclusive activities that prevent them from attending this dinner party. The other is then invited, brought in to attend the party.
This is a party for all. No one is excluded, because all are invited, included. However, the religious elite have excluded themselves. In excluding the other they exclude themselves. The very act of excluding, excludes the one who thinks they are included.
In Christianity they contend that it is the religious elite that have rejected the invitation. They even contend that Jesus was talking about the church, the gentiles who are the poor and destitute who actually attend. The church likes to see itself as the sinner invited to the party. They cannot recognize that Jesus is speaking of universal truths, just as Toni Morrison addresses in the quote above. It is our human tendency toward being exclusive that is being addressed, the religious elite and the poor are illustrative, vehicles for the greater message. While Jesus was probably not talking about Christians the application can be made. But not as they would like to think. No one wants to identify with the religious elite of the parable. Christians like to comfortably identify with the poor, outcast sinners. Yet, the more the church tries to make qualifications about who is in and who is not, the further it excludes itself from the great party. The more it insists groups of people cannot be a part of the party, the further they they are from attending themselves. Just as in their judgment they drink judgment upon themselves, in their exclusion the exclude themselves.