A Grimm Parable
The Brothers Grimm is a collection of fairy tales. Fairy tale can be a synonym of parable. A parable is literally “a throwing together of” two things to compare and contrast. I call this “A Grimm Parable” because you have to hear it in the spirit of a fairy tale. In them wild things happen without explanation. Unbelievable things are simply stated as accepted. And key things are repeated. Unless you enter the realm of “once upon a time” you’ll think Jesus is giving instructions about seat choosing at weddings or giving a party. Or worse, He’s telling you how to get honor in this life and repayment at the resurrection. Part of the problem is our 9-verse text is excised out of a 24-verse account of one event.
Three points to jar your thinking out of the well-worn rut of Jesus is telling me “how to”. First, Jesus can’t be instructing how to get more honor because He says, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” Second, Jesus teaches deeper than Plato who said: “at private entertainments you ought not to invite your friends, but beggars and those who need a meal; for they will love you and attend you and come to your doors and be most pleased and grateful, and will call down many blessings upon your head” (Phaedrus 233e). Third, since 8 times the word kaleo, invite, invites, invited, is used, that’s the focus of the parable.
First, we look at the Inviter. Not much to comment on here but to draw your attention to the fact that it’s a wedding feast setting, again. A wedding feast setting takes us to the end-time Marriage Supper of the Lamb where God the Father is the Inviter and His only Son the Groom. We we’re handmade by God to be His Bride in Paradise. But Satan slithered in and we quickly fell and fled. The child’s Bible I read first brought this home. It has Adam looking back over his shoulder with a look of horror and his hand raised to shield his face. God coming towards us is like the child pursuing the pigeon. The more he chases the farther the pigeon goes. It would be comical if running away from God was not running toward Sin, Eternal Death, and the Devil.
The OT Church had liturgy and sacraments to bring fallen man back and to keep them in fellowship with God. They did this by bringing the realities of NT Redemption, Justification, and Atonement through Jesus backward into the OT Word and Sacraments. As Hebrews tells us, on the one hand, ”without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Heb. 9:22). On the other hand, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). It had to be no less than the Blood of God to take sins away, so God takes on flesh and blood to come for us. This is the ministry of Jesus. But He not only takes our place under the law’s requirements and punishments, He invites” “Come unto Me.” “Come inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world.”
The Inviter is no less than Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and they do the inviting through God in the Flesh. Let’s look at the invite in this Land of Never, Never. It comes in Divine Services open to the public. Because they are, we are subject to a certain amount of government oversite. We have to inspect our boiler every two years; we have to have lit exit signs, and up to date fire extinguishers. Jumping through these hoops is worth it to us because our message is for all. Our ringing bells call all. It’s an olly-olly oxen free. The Good News that God in Christ defeated Sin, Death, and Devil to redeem all flesh from enslavement is a message for all.
We do even more for those on our membership rolls. I referred last week to mailing sermons when you miss. But there’s more. We post on the public internet the audio of the sermon and a printed copy. These leave you with no excuse to forego or be negligent in hearing or reading the preached Gospel. This is the equivalent of the owl-delivered invite of Harry Potter to Hogwarts School. When his aunt and uncle keep taking the invitation, more and more owls come bearing invites till they fall like snow. That’s the effect of all the ways you can access God’s Word meant specifically for you. As I am accountable for every word I say, you are accountable for hearing every word. Every one.
Have you seen the 1953 Luther movie? That black and white movie influenced me. The Bible is shown chained up. I thought it was to prevent people from reading it. No, it was to keep it from being stolen. There were so few copies. Now the Bible is the most printed book in the world. There are billions of copies in existence to today. You are without excuse for not using even one. Remember the joke? The pastor is visiting; the father says to a son, “Go get that big book we’re always looking at here.” The boy comes back with the Sears Catalog. Well, we’re in the realm of fairy tales, and in them inanimate objects talk. But that’s true in the Bible as well. Joshua can say that an inanimate rock has heard the people’s promises and can testify against them (Jos. 24:7). Your Bible more so. You don’t use the preached word regularly or faithfully, and so you don’t hear me, but it’s the Inscripturated Word unopened, unread, that testifies against you.
Come on, who does this guy think he is? I tell you every week who I am. I am a Called and ordained servant of the Word standing in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus promises me in Luke 10:16, "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me." You reject my invitation to come wash in the forgiveness of sins that flows from Jesus’ pierced side into the font or to eat and drink the forgiveness of your sins in Jesus’ Body and Blood, you reject God the Inviter.
Okay. Am I still invited? Grimms’ fairy tales regularly bring back people who are down for the count. They can be dead, turned to stone, cut into pieces, made into animals, but some “magic” brings them back. Scripture says we are from conception sinful; we go on to be born dead in our trespasses, walking about with hearts of stone. Go to the second parable and read whom Jesus says to invite: “ But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” (Lk. 14:13). Now go to the 3rd parable that’s part of this incident but not part of our text and see whom God invites to His Great Supper: "'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame’” (Lk 14:21). Then read Lev. 21:17-21. These are among the ones excluded from being an OT priest. Something is radically different between the OT Church and the NT Land of Forever. God in Christ purposely invites the un-invite-able.
Dig a little more. Go home; read verses 2-6 of this chapter. They are also left out of the appointed Gospel. There you’ll read that Jesus’ enemies were closely watching Him. They had seated Him next to a man with an Elephant Man kind of sickness. Deformed, ugly, repulsive. Jesus is close enough to take hold of him. This kind of marginalized person is the kind that Jesus invites. Disfigured by sin, fallen, undeserving, unable to pay Him back. This is Cinderella, this is the step-daughter abused by the step-mother, this is the ugly toad that no one has use for. The fairy tale seeks such out for this is where miracles happen. Jesus said it first though. The sick not the healthy need a physician. It’s the sinner without excuse that needs grace. It’s the broken, the diseased, the cast out that can be mercied.
I generally avoid jokes about heaven, but I recall one about a man wishing to enter heaven asserting he had done every thing the angel at the gate brought up as a requirement to enter. Still the angel would not let him in. Finally, the angel said something so impossible, so undoable, so hopeless, that the man in an expression of despair says, “Oh mercy me.” And that angel says, “Oh in that case come in.” Choose the lowest of the low seats all day, give parties to the most unfit, and you still can’t come in. But the person who sees they are unfit, they are the blind, the lame, the halt, who can only live by God’s grace, mercy, and peace for Jesus sake, that one is invited.
In The Brothers Grimm people you don’t expect to die do. Or just when the hero or heroine is going to triumph utter defeat happens. But in the end the dead are raised, the dismember reassembled, and they enter into a banquet. This is feature of most of the 200 tales. You think that’s by accident that a manmade gospel has elements of the true Gospel? Noble Pagans want good to triumph, evil to be punished, and a festival party at the end. They tell fantastic stories of this happening that strain credulity. God in Christ is the Fairy Tale come to life. That’s miraculous, but then so is the fact we’re brought to trust that miracle: living and dying and living again in it. The miracle was completed in about 30 A.D. with the Man Jesus being publicly enthroned in heaven. Now, the invitations go out: to those blind to the things of the Spirit, Jesus gives sight. To those dead in their in sins, He says “Live.” And they do. To those enemies of God who oppose all that is Him and His, He reconciles them in the Body and Blood of His Son.
I told you of a congregation in Louisiana who were without a pastor for some time, and so for Bible Class began reading Luther’s 1535 commentary on Galatians. They told the pastor who eventually took the Call, “We had to stop because if we kept reading we’d have a different faith.” What they read was too good to be true. It was fit for Fairy Tales and Neverland. Here’s what they would’ve read on page 6: "It is a marvelous thing and unknown to the world to teach Christians to ignore the Law and to live before God as though there were no Law whatever. For if you do not ignore the Law and thus direct your thoughts to grace as though there were no Law but as though there were nothing but grace, you cannot be saved" (LW, 26, 6). It's a Grimm Parable where the only way to be saved is to trust in something too good to be true. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20220918); Luke 14:1,7-14