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         “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

         “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

         “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

         “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

        “The servant came back and reported this to the master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

        “Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

        The master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ — (Luke 14:16-23)

This parable of Jesus is one that can tend to fly under the radar to some extent, given our cultural expectations. After all, things do come up, and sometimes we have to decline an invitation we would otherwise accept. And if we’re invited at the last minute, isn’t it a bit much to expect we won’t have made other plans?

A background check of first century Jewish culture throws more light on the situation. In these times, it was common practice for a host to send out two invitations to his guests. The first invitation required a response. The second invitation was send only to those who had previously accepted, and indicated that everything was now ready for them to appear.

Given that the guests in question would have received advance notice of the banquet, and accepted the invitation, their excuses were just that: excuses. Adding insult to injury, they were extremely flimsy. No one in that culture would buy land without seeing it, nor oxen without trying them out, just as most of us wouldn’t buy a building lot sight unseen, or a car without a test drive. In our world, there are people who decide to get married on the spur of the moment, but not 2,000 years ago. Marriage was a contract between families with many steps to completion.

What the excuses proved was that these guests hadn’t been sincere when they accepted the host’s invitation. Their reasons would be considered a slap in the face, given the time and expense of preparing the banquet for them.

Jesus wasn’t talking about social no-nos here, of course. He’s likening his offer of salvation to the banquet invitation, and illustrating that some who accept or appear to accept the invitation don’t follow through. As time goes on, their commitment wanes, and their lives are centred more on themselves and the world around them than on Jesus. They’re too preoccupied with their current circumstances to be thinking about their eternal options.

This is shaky ground for many of us today. Two common responses to the greeting, “How are you?” is either “Busy!” or “Crazy busy!” This is especially true of young families, but not limited to them. (Grandparents get caught up in this too!) Modern life seems, above all, hectic. Many seem to feel this is unavoidable, but much of our schedules are filled with choices we make, and those choices are often based on what we feel is expected of us, or what seem like good things to do. In fact, there are so many expectations and good options, we keep choosing until there is no white space left on the calendar.

I don’t believe Jesus was teaching that a crowded schedule or achieving success through hard work disqualifies us from His kingdom. As with all things in life, it’s a question of priorities. Scripture is clear that our first allegiance belongs to God. When we accept Jesus’ invitation to salvation, it involves a commitment to turn over our lives to Him. Out of that commitment comes a personal relationship with Him through the Holy Spirit, who leads us in God’s will to live as God intends. We know that God is more than able to meet all our needs, and this includes our families, our work, and our leisure.

But so often, we eventually turn this pyramid — with God at the pinnacle — upside down. We put ourselves and our families first (with stiff competition from our work at times), our employment a close second, our leisure choices next, and then our spiritual well-being — if there’s any time or energy left over. We push aside the relationship that would strengthen and reinforce everything else, and try to do it all ourselves.

Our culture is right there urging us on. Parents and grandparents get the implicit message they must provide children with every possible opportunity to participate in organized activities, or they’re failing them. Unstructured time seems to be regarded as a hole that must be filled. Boredom is unacceptable. Increasingly, leisure (including vacations) boils down to “Can you top this?” Society screams, “Do more! Go bigger! Run faster! It’s all or nothing!”

A pyramid turned upside down is the epitome of instability; it was never meant to stand on its point. A life that tries to function with the top-heavy spectrum of the world’s ways and expectations as its guide will also find itself constantly ready to topple, and come to regard this as normal. It may be a social norm, but it’s one that Satan is happy about. It ensures we have little time or energy to focus on God, on His will and His guidance. When He invites us to come and feast on His Word, gain perspective and receive strength and clarity, we find ourselves saying, “Not now,” when now is exactly when we need Him.

Let’s not forget what we committed to when we first accepted Jesus. When we RSVP to his current invitations, let’s

R — Review our priorities and where our current focus is

    S– Select the things God, and not the world, leads us to do

                                          V — Verify our choices through prayer, Scripture and fellowship with other believers

                                                        P — Proceed to live according to God’s plan and purpose for us, in the strength He provides

Right now would be a good time to start!