Second Sunday After Pentecost: Excuses
You’ve been invited to a big party. Not just a party but God’s party. And it lasts a really long time . . . for eternity. In order to understand how this party works, Jesus told a parable. And what makes this parable amazing is when and where He told it.
As a 16 year old, I lived with a family in which dinner table talk was the norm. Dinner would last a long time not because eating took long but because the conversation did. And here in Luke 14, this dinner conversation started in verse 1 and ended at verse 24—and the topics were intense. The conversation started with healing and proceeded all the way to the big party.
At this Swiss German dinner table that I sat at, I learned the art of debate and how to defend your point of view over anything from politics to theology. Nothing was off limits. Sort of like the Reagan Family from the Television show the Blue Bloods, the conversations would get loud and emotional, but always ended with dessert and coffee.
This Luke 14 dinner conversation with Jesus didn’t end with cheesecake and coffee but did end with an intense talk about God’s final party in heaven and why people will miss it.
In New Testament times, two invitations were usually given to a party or banquet. The first was given well in advance so that people could RSVP. Then when everything was ready for the party to begin, the host sent servants with a second invitation to tell everybody to “come, for everything is now ready.” You’d think that receiving such a wonderful invitation and news would cause people to stop whatever they were engaged in and go to the party, but that is not what Jesus said happened in this parable:
“But he said to him: A certain man made a great supper, and invited many. And he sent his servant at the hour of supper to say to them that were invited, that they should come, for now all things are ready. And they began all at once to make excuse. The first said to him: I have bought a farm, and I must needs go out and see it: I pray thee, hold me excused. And another said: I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to try them: I pray thee, hold me excused. And another said: I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. And the servant returning, told these things to his lord. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant: Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the feeble, and the blind, and the lame. And the servant said: Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the Lord said to the servant: Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. But I say unto you, that none of those men that were invited, shall taste of my supper.” (Luke 14:16-24)
This invitation came at a time that something would have to be interrupted . . . something great would have to be chosen over something good. We have to choose the lasting over the temporal, the great over the good if we want to go to the party.
In the parable, Jesus said that some chose not to come because the party interfered with their business, possessions, and relationships. In each case the excuses were legitimate but not sufficient.
Legitimate but not sufficient. The point is—if you miss God’s party, it isn’t because you were not invited. It’s because you chose to make other things a priority over responding to Him.
The people who were invited all began to make excuses. The definition of excuse: that which makes (an offense or a crime) seem less serious or something used to justify a fault.
There are countless websites for excuses for sleeping in class, sleeping at work, and missing school and work. The following are actual notes that parents wrote to schools so their children could be excused for their absence:
• Please excuse Lisa for being absent. She was sick and I had her shot.
• Dear school: Please excuse John being absent on Jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and also 33.
• Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday.
I heard about four college freshmen who hung out together and were always intent on having more fun than studying. These guys were always late to a certain class, because they knew the professor was a pushover. They had a multitude of excuses why their assignments weren’t finished on time or why they hadn’t shown up for class. When it came time for the final exam, they were late. About the time everyone else was finishing, they showed up giggling and told the professor their car had a flat tire, so they wanted to take a make-up test later.
“No problem,” the professor said. “Have a seat in the four corners of the classroom. I’ll prepare a special final exam just for you guys, and I’ll make it easier—it will only have one question. And since you guys haven’t turned in all your assignments, I’ll give you another chance. If all four of you answer this question correctly, you’ll all get an ‘A,’ but if any of you miss it, you’ll fail the class.” He took a moment to write the question in four exam blue-books.
The four guys were grinning when he handed them their books, but their smiles disappeared when they opened the test. The single question on the final exam was, “Which tire was flat?”
As the professor stood between them, they realized they were done for. They each tossed their exam books in the trashcan as they walked out. Their excuses had caught up to them!
Jesus said that when the second invitation was sent, “they began all at once to make excuse.” (verse 18).
The first excuse: “I need to go and look at my new property.” The field would be there the next day. We make desires our needs. And when we do that, our desires start to control decisions, and this will always be a train wreck. The desire to be known, to be wanted, and to be loved. Our need is for God who will meet all our desires. We should have gone to the party.
The second excuse was that he’d just bought five oxen. He had something new, and the novelty was exciting. Some people hear the call to serve God and be part of a church, and they want to—until something shiny and new excites them. They get a new friendship, a new hobby, a second home. God always plays second fiddle to them. That means we’re there unless something new invites our attention.
Finally, the third excuse, that the man just got married. At times human affections can keep us from turning our love upon the Lord. This is not about putting marriage in a wrong priority. This is about being careful that we are not involved in relationships that keep us from making the right God decisions in our lives. That runs the gamut. I have watched affection make men and women compromise morals and standards, making unwise future decisions and marrying too fast without getting wisdom. Affection for people is important in second place. When people take the first priority over God choices, life is about to get real hard.
When it was all said and done . . . desires, novelty, and affection took the place over a God invitation.