Sometimes connections just leap off the page after I dig a little bit! I was recently reading a parable, recollected in Luke 14:15-24, that Jesus told about a great banquet.
Jesus told the story of a man whose invitations to a banquet were spurned by everyone. Some said that they were too busy; others pleaded business or pressing family matters. Angrily, the man searched the streets and lanes of the city for paupers, cripples and the blind. Having a large hall to fill, the man even sent out his servants with invitations to those who were living on the highways and hedges. Finally, he was ready. The banquet hall was full. Jesus said that this is the way that the Kingdom of God works: the rich, young, vital and engaged are too full of the importance of their own affairs to pay attention to an invitation from God. It is the poor, the lame and the social rejects whom God will have at his banquet in heaven.
At the Minnesota state fair, my home state, I went to the 4H (future farmers) rabbit competition. Offbeat, you think. I have to admit I was there under the compulsion of a singular pursuit. I still have dreams of raising thousands of rabbits as a healthier, green and cheaper protein source. Americans may shudder at the thought but not their ancestors and today’s Europeans. This is the type of thing you think about at a future farmers’ 4H show. Rabbits are ecologically friendly, inexpensive and delicious alternative to cows, lambs and goats.
My Journey friends in New York City will remember that at our celebration dinner in Covo restaurant of West Harlem I couldn't resist trying the rabbit. (It was delicious, though not everyone tried it.)
When I got to the 4H show, I quite enjoyed watching all the rural kids caring conscientiously for their rabbits. For a little while I didn't think of sending these critters to the broiler, but thought instead on what these kids from all around the state shared with other kids and also how their lives were different. The kids were polite when interacting with the judges and knowledgeable about their rabbits. But I started wondering more about the challenges of rural life that the kids will face in the future.
Farming has always been a hard business, and there is more poverty in the countryside than you would imagine. I remembered about how Journey reporters saw the poverty of the rural places was stacking up in full view in an urban setting. I also had a chance to see rural poverty moved into the favelas of Rio De Janeiro while I was working on A Journey project there.
I have been brushing up on my linguistic proficiency by reading The Gospel of Luke in Portuguese. The practice makes me slow down and approach the familiar book as if it were a new read. What I remembered was the man who bought a field and oxen had no time for a banquet (v 18 & 19). I understand that the man was similar to someone today caught up with a new house or car.
The married couple too had no time for the banquet -- small surprise there! After my brother got married, I learned that his calendar soon filled up. Konstantin Levin, a hero in Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina, was overwhelmed with a desire to be married. After his wedding, he also was surprised how much his focus moved away from everyday work toward his matrimonial life. So, not surprisingly, the banquet host in Jesus’ parable had a hard time filling up the dinner places.
The man then sent his servant out into the streets and alleys to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and lame(v 21). The Portuguese Bible reads that the servant and went to the ruas (streets) and becos (alleys). We went through a lot of alleyways on our Journey trips! But then when it was obvious that there was still room in the banquet hall, the master told his servant to go through the caminhos (roads) and valados. In the Portuguese dictionary valados means a hedge or ditch, in the English NIV it is translated as "country lanes." To sum up the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full." (Luke 14:23)
That's when the light-bulb went off. The master is realizing that at his table there is room not only for the broken and suffering people of the city from streets and alleys, but also for the people of rural places. City slickers and farmers will sit down together at the banquet in heaven. About this demographic unity, Jesus prefaced, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the fest in the kingdom of God." (Luke 14:15) The Olympics is bringing the broken, the suffering, the urbanites, the rural people, the rich and the poor together for a purpose.