Post Series on Luke 14:12-24:
- Do You Want to Be Repaid at the Resurrection of the Just? (Luke 14:12-14)
- Do You Want to Eat Bread in the Kingdom of God? (Luke 14:15)
- Do You Want to Taste God’s Banquet? (Luke 14:16-24)
Yesterday, we looked at Luke 14:12-14, where Jesus challenged us with a question that should affect the entirety of how we live: Do we really want to be repaid at the resurrection of the just? Do we actually value the praise and commendation of God more than the status and comfort of people? If so, Jesus explains, that should change the way that we go about even the most standard cultural activities—like throwing parties.
At this point, one of the guests offers a reflection on Jesus’ teaching:
When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15)
This is, I think, the most interesting piece of the story of Jesus’ visit to the Pharisee’s dinner party, because it marks a turning point to the direction that Jesus takes in the conversation. Up to now, Jesus had talked about seeking humility instead of exaltation and pursuing the repayment at the resurrection of the just instead of the repayment that comes from inviting the “right” sort of people to your parties.
Who Actually Wants to Eat Bread in the Kingdom of God?
So why does this man pronounce such a self-evident statement about those who will eat bread in the kingdom of God? Of course such people are blessed, so why does he take the time to make the point? Is he trying to defuse the situation by offering an uncontroversial statement? Or is he trying to interject himself in the conversation in order to seek status a different way, by offering his own opinion in the middle of an intense theological discussion.
Whatever his motives, Jesus’ response is fascinating. Jesus takes a seemingly indisputable statement and, while agreeing that those who eat bread in the kingdom of God are indeed blessed, he stands the statement on his head by showing that people nevertheless don’t really want it. In Luke 14:16-24 (which we will look at tomorrow), Jesus tells a parable about several people who go out of their way to avoid tasting the banquet of the kingdom of God.
The Great Divorce
How could this be, though? Who wouldn’t want to go to heaven after death to eat bread in the kingdom of God? The best answer to this question comes in C.S. Lewis’s book The Great Divorce, an imaginative story about what would happen if people from hell were allowed not only to visit heaven, but even to stay if they wished to do so. (Lewis is clear that this is an imaginative story, and not a literal explanation of his belief of the world to come.) The only requirement for staying in heaven is that citizens of hell must submit to death (or, allow the thing that they love the most to be put to death) in order to be resurrected and made fit to live in the full realness of that world.
Some citizens of hell want to leave heaven almost immediately, wanting nothing to do with the Joy offered in that world. Others don’t feel the need to leave immediately, but time and time again, they offer excuse after excuse about why they cannot submit to death. Lewis’s characterizations are vivid and profound as he explores the human heart, and our unwillingness, at the end of the day, to eat bread in the kingdom of God.
One man refused his entry in the kingdom this way, after being told that “Everything is here for the asking and nothing can be bought”:
‘So that’s the trick, is it?’ shouted the Ghost, outwardly bitter, and yet I thought there was a kind of triumph in his voice. It had been entreated: it could make a refusal: and this seemed to it a kind of advantage. ‘I thought there’d be some damned nonsense. It’s all a clique, all a bloody clique. Tell them I’m not coming, see? I’d rather be damned than go along with you. I came here to get my rights, see? Not to go snivelling along on charity tied onto your apron-strings. If they’re too fine to have me without you, I’ll go home.” (30-31)
Another man was a theologian, and after a long discussion where one of his friends from a formerly life tried to urge him to come with him toward God’s City, he refused to enter the kingdom like this:
‘Happiness, my dear Dick,’ said the Ghost placidly, ‘happiness, as you will come to see when you are older, lies in the path of duty. Which reminds me…Bless my soul, I’d nearly forgotten. Of course I can’t come with you. I need to be back next Friday to read a paper. We have a little Theological Society down there [in hell]. Oh yes! there is plenty of intellectual life…..Oh, must you be going? Well, so must I. Goodbye, my dear boy. It has been a great pleasure. Most stimulating and provocative. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.’ (43-44)
One woman refuses the kingdom on the pretense of demanding her husband, whom she had controlled all her life, and demanded to control into eternity:
‘I did my duty to the end. I forced him to take exercise—that was really my chief reason for keeping a great Dane. I kept on giving parties. I took him for the most wonderful holidays. I saw that he didn’t drink too much….My conscience is clear. I’ve done my duty by him, if ever a woman has….He’s not fit to be on his own. Put me in charge of him. He wants firm handling. I know him better than you do. What’s that? No, give him to me, do you hear? Don’t consult him: just give him to me. I’m his wife, aren’t I? I was only beginning. There’s lots, lots, lots of things I still want to do with him. No, listen, Hilda. Please, please! I’m so miserable. I must have someone to—to do things to.’ (94-95)
Lewis gives the theme of the story through the voice of George MacDonald, who explains:
‘There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.’ (75)
The brilliance of the novel is Lewis’s ability to illustrate the way that we can deceive others (and even ourselves) that we desire to eat bread in the kingdom of God, when, in fact, we only want God if he comes to us on our own terms. When God asks us to take up our cross and follow Jesus, we are left with a dilemma. Will we respond by saying to God, “Thy will be done,” or will we force God to say to us, “Thy will be done”?
Do you want to eat bread in the kingdom of God?