As Christians, we must decide if we will set a table as though the whole world is invited to feast. While there is no evidence that all will feast (though one can hope), the hopeful Christian must live as though the whole world is at minimum invited.
The parables of Jesus were one such place where large crowds were given a taste of what the Kingdom of God and its feast are like. These stories have a real place in the actual, crowded world. Jesus’ answers (often given in questions) have teeth that penetrate the hearts of mankind. Or, as Mike Erre puts it, “The Gospel Isn’t Just Something that exists somewhere in people’s hearts. It has edges and can actually impact the world.”
Sadly, today’s church can often feel like an exclusive dinner where only a few privileged souls have a place at the table. Often times, we leaders in the church can act more like gatekeepers than bridge-builders. If you are an invited guest (long time attender or member), you may be more interested in reserving your usual seat than making room for a visitor. If you are an outsider (first time visitor), you may be wondering if it is okay that you are even at church.
Things would look a lot different if we as the church intended for people very different from us to have an invitation to the Table. D.A. Carson writes,
“Ideally the church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything of the sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says—and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”
The parable of the foolish rich man puts much of this conversation in extreme focus. The situation is that there is a crowd of people following Jesus and looking to see what He is all about. One of the people in the crowd fires a question at Jesus about how an inheritance should be divided between him and his brother. Jesus answers the question with another question and gives a stern warning about the effects of greed.
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” – Jesus
Then, Jesus launches into a story about the foolish rich man who didn’t quite know what to do with all of his wealth. (Talk about a “first world problem”: I just don’t know what to do with all this money I have!)
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
A pair of thoughts about this parable in Luke 12:16-19: First, life as God intended it includes abundant harvest. The desire of God is that your labor results in rich harvest. Unfortunately, a fallen world means that this is not always the case. The result is that there are times for celebration and times for sorrow, times where sowing results in harvest and times when sowing does not result in harvest.
Second, in the times where the harvest is plenty, there are foolish solutions and wise solutions. As we see in the parable, the foolish rich man concludes that he should build a bigger place to store his wealth. That we he can take life easy and live off the fat of the land.
At this, Jesus puts God into the parable (this is rare!). God asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” In other words, all the stuff in the world will do you no good the eternity that comes after this life. The stuff is only good in this life and can be used properly or not.
I know a man who is in the later years of his life and is trying to give away money as wisely as possible. This is a man who understands that he will not be able to see his stuff used for eternity after he has left this world (though his stuff may, in fact, continue to be used this way!).
When God asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” he gets to the heart of the matter. Will we use our stuff for eternal purposes or not? And, who has access? Who is invited?
Jesus indicates that there is a better way, a properly wise solution to the issue of excess. And, there is a God (even a Father) who enters the situation to give direction to the “divided brothers.”
In God’s economy, He is to be remembered in the midst of all the stuff. Proverbs 30:8-9 says,
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
In other words, we must remember God whether we have much or have plenty (see Paul in Philippians 4:11-13). And it is actually better to have just what we need for the day (see Exodus 16 and Matthew 6:11). We must remember God in our stuff.
Also, we must be willing to share our stuff with all people. There is a reason that God instructed the people of Israel not to harvest the edges of their fields during the Festival of Weeks. Leviticus 23:22 reads,
“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”
In other words, God desired that the outsider would have room at the table. God desired that those who see themselves as gatekeepers would actually become bridge-builders so that insiders would become room-makers and outsiders would belong. We are to share our stuff with people, as though the whole world is invited to the feast.
Lastly, we do this so that we can live in abundance together. It is no accident that Jesus makes mention of great feasts in Luke 14 and 22. And, it is not accident that Revelation 19 tells of the marriage supper of the Lamb. God intends for his people to feast together for all eternity. John 10:10 indicates that the devil sought to steal, kill, and destroy while Jesus came that we might have life in abundance. The abundant life may not necessarily include an abundance of things, but we are foolish to think that God’s abundant life doesn’t impact our things.
Scripture tells of an eternal feast with God. Our things on earth can be used to set a table for the whole world. Let’s remember God in our stuff, share our stuff with all people, and live in abundance together.
(This is a post in which I may stolen lines from or hopefully accurately paraphrased Mike Erre. Thankfully, Mike has publicly given permission for anyone to do this. My hope is that I have not altogether misquoted Mike or acted boorishly like a Wolverines or Spartans football fan.)