One day Jacob was preparing a meal of lentil soup. His brother Esau happened upon him as he returned home, tired from hunting. He asked Jacob for some of the food. Jacob sold Esau a bowl for his birthright as the firstborn son. Esau accepted, received the bowl of soup, ate and drank, and then went his way in glib disdain for his birthright.
That Esau would sell his birthright for food is clearly the sign of a coarse, arrogant, and godless nature. In the Old Testament, the birthright was no small thing. It was not merely a physical blessing, but a very powerful spiritual blessing that pointed to the coming of the Messiah. Esau abandoned and cast to the wind the excellence of his birthright.
This account is an example for all. For the sake of earthly goods, they abandon and throw to the wind that which is everlasting. For Christ, by His death and resurrection, has obtained a great and magnificent inheritance on behalf of all mankind, that they may be princes and priests of God the Father and heirs of eternal life. But this great kindness is forfeited by many and lost for the sake of a bowl of lentils, that is, nothing more than earthly good. In this way, the ungodly place worldly goods above the everlasting ones and deny that judgment will come one day. But they will end in remorse and suffering.
May we not be among them.
In today’s parable, Christ shows us that many people prefer land, oxen, and women to the great heavenly feast. Christ tells us that God will punish the ingratitude and despising of His kingdom.
The banquet of God includes not only the kingdom of grace here on earth, where we receive forgiveness and life through the Gospel of Christ, yes, we receive even Christ the Lord as our possession. But we also receive eternity and immortality where we will enjoy incorruptible blessings of food and drink unspoiled by any tears or pain. The endless wedding banquet will be only joy and godly pleasure forevermore.
What fool would throw this away for a few pitiful earthly blessings in this veil of tears? Yet that is just what human nature wants to do.
At the time He spoke it, Christ primarily meant this parable for His own Jewish people. Not only had they been invited to God’s kingdom through the prophets, but God also sent John the Baptist and Christ to say that the kingdom was at hand. The time was come! Here was the Bridegroom! The feast was upon them.
But so many of them despised God’s invitation. As shown in the parable, a great number of Jews placed more importance on earthly things and worldly good. Instead of repentance and faith, they preferred the honor of men to the honor of God. So many rejected the Gospel preached by Christ. They preferred instead their earthly blessings, and so rejected the Messiah.
Now, there is nothing wrong with earthly goods. There is nothing wrong with cattle, land, or marriage. But when these things get in the way of hearing the Word of God and believing the Gospel, then they have become idols and impediments to faith. What God gave as a blessing becomes a terrible weight dragging people down into destruction.
Why would this be so seductive, especially for the Jews who knew God’s Word? They should easily have seen how much better the kingdom of God is than a few bowls of soup or the like. It is because there is an attitude that seduces us to prefer earthly things to spiritual. The attitude is spiritual pride. So many Jews had it, as exemplified by the Pharisees. They believed that they were very rich in spirit. They were fit and healthy and strong. They were discerning and wise. Or so they thought about themselves. They thought that with all their spiritual blessings, they could surely never fall away. No stumbling block could compromise their faith.
Yet that is exactly what happened. Many a prideful heart preceded a terrible fall.
But Christ wants to find the poor, lame, crippled, and blind. Among His own people, He invited many who felt weak and foolish. He called many who had no faith in themselves. He found the despairing and downtrodden, and to these He preached salvation. “Come, for My feast is ready!” He cried, and many joyfully answered the cry. Since they were so crushed by their own inadequacy, they could do nothing but gladly accept the Master’s undeserved invitation. These are the guests that He loves at His banquet.
May we also be poor, lame, crippled, and blind. That is to say, we must be meek in spirit. We must recognize that we have nothing of ourselves, not even hands nor feet to achieve what is good. By nature we are unable to acquire the blessed knowledge of God.
This knowledge can only come through the Holy Spirit. We pray that He may continue to show us the truth – that we are spiritually wretched and naked. As He grants us to recognize our infirmity, what then would keep us from the kingdom? We would gladly give up a thousand earthly kingdoms for the one that God gives. We would throw away the richest earthly feast for one taste of God’s eternal Supper.
When the Jews who thought they were something rejected Christ’s invitation, He went first to the lowly and repentant. But then later He would also send His Gospel, through His apostles, to the Gentiles, those outside the city. They had received no earlier invitation through the prophets of Israel. Now they would have to be compelled to come in, driven by the Spirit and the Word into a kingdom that was not originally theirs. But God’s gracious generosity could do no less than go looking for more wedding guests, even among those who were not His people.
Now we are His people. We Gentiles are in the kingdom, and we celebrate with joy that God has brought us in. But we should not get all puffed up, as if now we are the true and right spiritual people, and the Church has been Gentile all along. Then we are beginning to sound like the prideful Jews. We should be humble, recognizing our spiritual poverty. We are guests who should never have been invited! Yet we are here. Only God’s overwhelming grace has got us here.
As soon as we are proud of our spiritual identity, then we begin to be lured away by other things. We begin to value the bowls of lentils out there. They appear much more than lentils to us, of course, or they could not lure us. They seem so important, as Esau thought that he would die without a bowl of beans. But we are no better than any of them. We are easily distracted from the Gospel, from the Divine Service, and from faith.
“But what if we do not pay attention to the things of the world?” we may ask. “God has commanded that I work hard, and what if that work gets in the way of worship from time to time?” Well then you have chosen what is lesser to distract you from what is greater. If you must work less and make less for the sake of the Gospel, then God will preserve you nonetheless. “But what about my family?” we may ask. “I must take care of them and spend time with them!” Yes, but not by sacrificing what is eternal. You should love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Nothing should get in the way of hearing God’s voice and believing it.
“But if I miss a few Sundays it will not compromise my faith!” That is the voice of self-pride. That is the voice of a person getting ready to fall from the faith. A few Sundays turns into many Sundays, and soon faith’s roots are so shallow that they can withstand almost no trouble or temptation without a fall.
Guard yourselves. You are vulnerable. We all are. Let nothing get in the way of this Gospel. Let nothing take priority.
The Lord keep us steadfast in His Word and work. He alone can keep our eyes glued upon the great treasure which is Christ and Him crucified. Only the Spirit’s kindly preservation can prevent us from picking literally anything else instead of the kingdom.
Thus we, the humble, the poor, the foolish, the weak, the beggars, the miserable and despised little flock of God, will enjoy the feast of grace that never ends. It has begun, and will only get better, forever and ever. Then we will rise above those who thought that they were wise, holy, rich, and powerful, those whom God rejects. Then us simple, insignificant little people will enter the presence of Christ, the Bridegroom who throws the best wedding banquet ever, to sit next to the holy saints and patriarchs of old. Then we will say things like, “Please pass the mustard, Father Abraham,” or “Could I taste that wine, King David?” But those things will be nothing compared to basking in the holy grace of the Lord God’s majestic face, gazing upon you with favor and approval, for all eternity.
The Lord preserve us all to that end by His grace. Amen.
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