I’m used to hearing excuses. Being a Dad to three, um, let’s go with “energetic”, children gives me pretty fair exposure to them, and they are masters of the genre. “I forgot…” or “It was an accident…!” are daily occurrences of course, as any parent will know. COVID gave new impetus to the “I don’t feel well” category – my son came down for breakfast this week, looked around to see who was there, and carefully staged a couple of well-timed coughs, before weakly announcing to the room he should probably take a lateral flow test. Which was negative, praise the Lord, as I really did not fancy yet another week of home-schooling due to self-isolating.
Some excuses are pretty flimsy – perhaps that’s part of what makes it an excuse. For my son, COVID was an excuse, for thousands of others it’s a genuine, life-changing reason, why they might not be able to do something anymore, or have to miss out on an opportunity or invitation.
I was reading Luke recently, and was struck by the Parable of the Banquet in Luke 14:15-24. Jesus is dining at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees on the Sabbath – he’s being carefully watched to see if he steps out of line, and if he does, what excuse will he come up with? And of course, despite it being the Sabbath, he heals someone, and then tells some pretty telling parables that pierce the performance the Pharisees put on in order to demonstrate their righteousness. The first is about not exalting ourselves, the second includes some pretty lame excuses about not attending a banquet.
Or so I used to think. The Great Banquet is ready, the guest are called, and they start making excuses. One has to see to some land he’d bought, another to some Ox, and another to his wife. I’ve always read it as none of these things are important enough to warrant missing out on the feast, and by allegory, the Kingdom of God. And indeed, the Master of the House gives them pretty short shrift for it, and declares “None of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet!” (v. 24). The central message here is, of course, we need to give up everything to follow Jesus.
And my rather glib response to that is sign me up! I wouldn’t miss out on a great banquet for a flimsy excuse like tending to a cow or checking a piece of land. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love my grub. There’s no way I would miss out – is there? But when I looked more closely at the excuses, I began to see them not as flimsy or whimsical, but as deep-seated, worldy reasons why I too, despite my enthusiasm for a banquet, might be vulnerable to missing out.
The Ox, the land, the spouse – they all speak to attempts to meet our legitimate God-given needs, as we say in the Freedom In Christ course, for Security, Significance and Acceptance. To go to a new field, as the first excuse states, a field where more food can be grown and a growing family fed, speaks to seeking security. Significance - only wealthy men with significant standing in the community would have owned 5 pairs of ox – what would you do with 10 oxen unless it was to contract them out and till other people’s fields, thereby earning more money and great significance? And as for the man needing to attend to his wife, those of us more prone to seeking the approval of others will know how easy it is to slip into people-pleasing to feel love and accepted, instead of focussing on our relationship with our heavenly Father.
When you think about it, all temptation is seeking to meet our legitimate needs for Significance, Security and Acceptance outside of God’s plan for us. And if I do that, as the three men in the parable did, then I too won’t be attending the banquet, where my needs would have been perfectly met. Like the three men in the parable, I'll end up not tasting the banquet, adrift in the world, instead of anchored firmly to God. And the tragedy is that it’s not for a lack of invitation that I’ll miss out, it’ll be because I’ll have robbed myself of the meal of a lifetime, all because I traded heaven’s perfect answer, for the world’s poor imitation.
I don’t want to do that, the banquet is too delicious. So no more excuses, no matter how compelling they are!
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15)