Jesus went to a lot of parties. In fact, he went to too many of them–at least, according to the religious people. Yet for him, far from being an excuse to eat too much and drink too much–though that was the accusation–parties made a crucial theological point. His point? The kingdom of God is like a party.
The earliest example is in Luke chapter 5, where, after Levi has become a follower of Jesus, he wants all his friends to meet Jesus too, so he throws a great dinner party. The Pharisees and scribes complain, on this occasion not that he is at a party (they have dinner parties themselves, after all (1), but because of the company he is keeping. They demand, \”Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?\” Why indeed.
Social science study of the Gospels helps us understand the dynamics here. One book points out that \”eating together implied sharing a set of ideas and values\”. In other words, if you eat with sinners, it implies that you approve of sinners. \”The microcosm of the meal,\” explain the same authors, \”is parallel to the macrocosm of everyday social relations.\” (2) If you approve of sinners in the home, you will approve of sinners on the street, in the marketplace, in the synagogue. Where is going to end? Our way of life is being threatened.
Of course, the Pharisees are right: their way of life is threatened. A new reality is springing up in their midst, a reality be called \”the kingdom\”, which subverts all other social structures.
Because the inclusive banquet makes such a strong statement, it becomes a metaphor for the kingdom in some of Jesus\’ best-known parables. The kingdom will be a banquet for people from all the points of the compass–and if we don\’t like it that way, we may find ourselves on the outside (3). People will make the silliest excuses for not coming to God\’s banquet because they don\’t approve of the other guests. (4) Then, in Luke 15, each of the three parables of lost and found (the sheep, the coin, the son) ends with a party. The shepherd, the woman and the father-each representing God–all invite their friends in and throw a great party to celebrate the finding of that which was lost. But what prompted these three parables? The Pharisees grumbled because Jesus was welcoming sinners. Malina and Rohrbaugh explain that to \”welcome\” \”sinners implies showing hospitality, playing host to them at a meal…To invite a person to a meal was an honor that implied acceptance, trust, peace.\” (5) In Jesus\’ dinner parties, the metaphor and the reality were one. They were not just like the kingdom of God: they were the kingdom of God: a place were worldly wealth, respectability and power counted for nothing, a place where God\’s generosity and forgiveness were celebrated-a place were God was sovereign.
What has this to do with evangelism? Evangelism means communicating the good news of Jesus. But if that message is to be more than words, it needs to be incarnated in ways that show the truth of the words. And parties are one way in which Jesus believed the kingdom was demonstrated, the evangel made flesh.
Does your parish throw parties, parties for all comers? Could you? Parties for Christmas or Easter, parties for Thanksgiving or Canada Day, parties for Valentine\’s or for New Year\’s Eve. Parties that are the talk of the neighbourhood? So that when people say, \”Wow, that was a wonderful party. I didn\’t think the church was into parties\”, we can say, \”Well, Jesus went to a lot of parties. He seems to have felt that it they were pretty close to what church is really about.\” Someone once said, \”A praising community preaches to answer questions raised by its praise.\” (6) We might paraphrase that to say, \”A partying community preaches to answer questions raised by its parties.\”
 e.g. Luke 7:36-50, 11:37-54, 14:1-14.
 Malina, Bruce J. and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 1992), 135.
 Luke 13:28-30
 Luke 14:15-24
 Malina and Rohrbaugh, 370
 Quoted anonymously by David Watson, I Believe in Evangelism (London and Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton 1976), 166.