Have you ever been invited to a party? Were you made to feel special or were you one of the substitutes? Were you invited to something you wanted to go to or were you begrudgingly attending to keep a friend/spouse/parent/grandparent happy?
In the Disney’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s story, we find a young woman named Alice spending an adventure in a mashup of invitation and unfortunate accident bouncing from one “party” to another. First, she follows a rabbit who is always late – making her Alice in Wonderland – before, second, she follows the instruction to “drink me” to shrink to Wonderland’s size. Third, fourth, and fifth – well, you get the idea, she shows up at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, the Queen’s croquet match. Sometimes, invitations help, and sometimes, they don’t.
In Jesus’ Parable of the Banquet in Luke 14:15-24, a king (God) sends out invitations to those who’d been invited (the Jews, per the Old Testament covenant). These initially invited gave excuses for why they couldn’t come – they had just purchased property (stuff), they had just bought animals that needed broken in (work), and they had just gotten married (relationships). In each aspect of a person’s life, these initially invited were unavailable to followthrough on an invitation that they had previously accepted.
At this point, the Jewish listeners to the story are “on the hook,” because they don’t know what the rich man will do next. What he does next is… shocking. Inviting in “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame,” followed by those in the roads and country lanes – those previously left out, or considered uninvited. They suddenly become the featured guests at the banquet.
Back in Wonderland, Alice arrives at the Mad Hatter’s, at first uninvited and then ignored; at the Queen’s croquet match, she’s treated even worse – she’s nearly killed! Unfortunately, this sort of ‘welcome’ is what the unchurched – or the irregular(!) – often receive in church or in the course of crashing into the ‘expected’ church behavior in and out of church. Too often, we’ve forgotten what it means to be on the outside looking in; too often, we forget that our inside speak and “Christianese” can be as off-putting as a teacup-eating hatter or a tookah-smoking caterpillar. (I pray we’re never considered a mad queen with a perchant for guillotines. But alas, we often are… understandably.)
In the pursuit of the guest, God’s invitation is open to all, and quite aggressively in pursuit of even those unbelieving outside. It’s the people who have accepted the invitation – and yet suddenly develop a busy slate – who find themselves on the outside looking in.