Invited to the Feast

This is a reading I wrote for a spiritual retreat we hosted for a group of people with developmental disabilities. It was a beautiful retreat, though exhausting, and really brought out to us the deep need every person feels to be listened to, to be sometimes given someone's whole attention.

The theme for the weekend was being God's honored guests. The reading is based on Jesus' parable of the feast. This one is definitely meant to be read aloud, hopefully by someone who can enjoy getting into the character and voice of Rebekah.

My name is Rebekah. They call me Rebekah the cripple—everybody knows me—I sit by the gate right here and beg every day. I watch everybody go past—the rich people in the fancy clothes and all the farmers all sweaty and dirty and even the poor beggars like me, like blind Eli and little Sara who can’t talk. I feel sorry for little Sara. Nobody will ever marry her, just like nobody ever married me. There’s Marcus too—he’s got a twisted arm, and he sits right across from me to beg. I don’t get mad if someone gives him a coin and doesn’t give me any. He needs it real bad. His arm got twisted up when his house burned down—something fell on it, I think it was a piece of wood that was on fire, the skin looks all weird—and his father died in the fire and his mother goes out in the fields and gets what’s left over after they harvested the wheat, but it’s not enough, and he’s hungry all the time, poor kid. Sometimes if I have a little extra I give it to him.

But I was going to tell you a story, and it’s not a story about Marcus. Well, partly it isn’t. I was going to tell you about Old Man Jacob’s party.

Wow, what a party.

I’d been hearing about it for a month—that Old Man Jacob, the richest man in town, was getting ready to throw a big party, just for no reason, just because he wanted to. Eli told me all about it; Eli likes to tell me what’s going on. Then pretty soon everyone was talking about it while they walked past. It got to where if someone said “Old Man Jacob” my mouth would start watering.

They said he was going to roast a whole cow and two sheep. Steak! All the steak you can eat! Oh, man. Do you know how long it’d been since I’d tasted steak? Twenty years. Susanna’s wedding. Susanna was always so nice to me—she got someone to carry me to where I could watch the dancing, and bring me steak. Oh, man, feeling meat between my teeth. Sometimes I lie awake and think of it.

But I wasn’t invited to Old Man Jacob’s party. Of course not! Why would he invite me? He was the richest man in town. So of course he invited the second richest man in town... and the third richest man in town... he invited the important people, the men who own big farms and don’t have to do any of the work themselves, the educated scribes, the merchants who buy fancy cloth from faraway countries and sell it for more money than I’ve ever had put together in my life. Of course he invited them and not us! But we liked to talk about the party anyhow. We liked to imagine if it was us, what we’d do, and what we’d eat first, and what we’d eat second, and how we’d never quit eating, ever. I’d start with steak, and then I’d have a little more, and then I’d have a few cheese rolls and some nice, white bread—the kind without any gravel or crunchy bits like I usually get!—and then I’d go to the fruit table and have figs and dates and pomegranates, and then some cake. They said there was going to be a whole table with nothing but every kind of sweet bread and cake there ever was. Oh man, I could just sit there by the gate and I didn’t even see the people go by because all I saw in my head was cake. Oh man. Do you know how long it’d been since I’d tasted cake?

Oh, and then I would go back for a second helping of steak.

But I wasn’t invited. Of course. I was just sitting there like usual, looking up at people and saying, “A coin please! A coin for the poor!” and watching their faces and wondering which ones would care enough, and which ones didn’t have anything anyway, and which ones had plenty but wouldn’t give it to such as me. Half the time I guess wrong but I can’t quit guessing. It’s the only thing I can do. Besides hold my hand out, and tell them I’m the poor. Tell them I need anything they can give me. And pray.

And this guy comes up to me, this guy in a uniform likes he’s a servant in some important house, and he says, “Are you crippled?”

I did something dumb. I laughed out loud. Because it sounded stupid! Anybody could see I was crippled. He looked annoyed, and he said, “Look, I’m just doing my job here. My boss told me to go out and get anybody who’s poor or crippled or blind or lame. He is in the weirdest mood. But he’s the boss.”

“Well,” I said, “I’m poor and I’m crippled, but who’s your boss and where are we going?”

“Master Jacob is my boss,” he said, “and we’re going to his party.”

Oh man. Oh man. I almost jumped up right there and started dancing. I almost forgot for just one moment I was crippled in both legs and jumped up and started dancing! But I didn’t. I just yelled “Woo hoo!” as loud as I could yell, and little Marcus looked over at me from across the road, and I turned to the servant guy and said, “Hey! See him! He’s poor and crippled too. Can he go?”

“‘Course he can go. I’m supposed to get as many as I can. Master Jacob wants his banquet hall full!”

I kinda just looked at him then, because I couldn’t figure it out. Why would Old Man Jacob try to fill up his party with us? It’s not like there wasn’t enough rich and fancy and educated people around. There were lots! And he’d invited them, too—Eli told me the names of every single person Old Man Jacob had invited—Eli always knows all the gossip. I’ve never been any good at shutting up, even when I ought to , so I said, “Hey Mister, how come we’re invited?”

Well, the guy started to smile, like he was remembering something funny. He said, “You know all those fancy people he invited? They didn’t want to come.”

“They didn’t WANT to?”

“No! None of them! They wrote back and said they were busy! Master Simon said he’d just bought a field and he had to go look at it, and Master Nathan said he’d just bought a whole lot of ploughing oxen and he wanted to watch his servants trying them out.”

I couldn‘t believe it. Rich people! They’d rather stare at what they’d got than go to a PARTY? “Can’t they do that later?”

“I guess not.” The guy was grinning now. “Master Jacob was so mad! You should’ve seen him, he was red in the face—I tell you what, he’s never inviting them again!”

By this time, little Marcus had stood up and gotten over to our side of the road wanting to know what it was all about. I turned to him and said, “Marcus, we’re going to Old Man Jacob’s party. We’re invited!”

His eyes got big. “We are?” He turned to the servant guy and tugged on his cloak, his eyes as big as saucers. “Mister?” he said. “Is it true about the roasted cow?”

“It’s true, son,” the servant guy said. “Except Master Jacob changed his mind at the last minute and made it two cows.”

Marcus’ eyes bugged out even further. My mouth was watering.

“And, young man,” the servant guy said, “Master Jacob has told me to invite everyone in town who’s poor or crippled or blind or lame. Do you know anybody else I should invite, and where I could find them?”

“Oh—” said Marcus—“Sara’ll wanna go—she’s just over on the next street usually—and old Joseph—and Jason—”

“And Eli,” I said, “don’t forget Eli—and Johanna and Mary—and—”

“You two had better come with me,” said the servant guy. And he whistled, and this other guy came up, big and burly, and he picked me up in his arms like I was a child. I didn’t weigh that much. No steak, no cake. Till now.

Oh man oh man. We went through town like a carnival—we got little Sarah, and we got Joseph and blind Eli and Saul and Johanna, and we got Jason and his two little brothers that can’t say a word between them but Oh man, you should’ve heard them laugh. We were like a parade, everyone running and dancing and jumping, all except us cripples—we were carried along like queens and kings. And Mary and Johanna started up a song, and everybody sang as loud as they could, and people looked out of their windows and saw all the beggars going down the street to Old Man Jacob’s party!

And we got there in the end, and oh man. What a party. I did exactly like I had planned. The steak and the white bread and the figs and dates and the cake and the steak again. It was unbelievable. And I sat there and watched little Marcus stuffing his face, and Mary and Johanna dancing, and old Joseph eating his fill for once in his life and just grinning away, and it was all more beautiful than anything I’d ever seen. And Eli sat by me and we listened to the music and I told him exactly what everyone was doing and what everything looked like, and then I told him the smile on his face was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. And then I said something I never said to him before. I said, “If I wasn’t crippled and you weren’t blind, would you dance with me?”

His smile got even prettier. He said yes, kind of quietly. And then he said. “Maybe someday, Rebekah. Maybe we will dance together, in the kingdom of God. When he sends his servants out to invite us all to his party, will you dance with me then?”

And I said yes.