Monday, April 26, 2010

Worst. Excuses. Ever.

Quite a while back, the Ironic Catholic interviewed me on humor and Christianity. I pointed out back then that Jesus told some pretty funny stories. This story isn't funny, per se, but one aspect of it certainly is.

Jesus told a story about a man who put on a huge party. He had sent out the invitations ahead of time. Guests had RSVP'd. The tables were set up, the food was ready to be served, the band was tuning up, and the host sent his servants out to call the guests to the party. "Everything's ready," they said. "Come join the party."

Now here's the humor:
But they all began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'

Now, in first century Palestine, where shame still had some pull, you didn't simply tell someone "no." Instead, in order for the other person to save face, you would offer an excuse. It could be flimsy, but it would still be better than a flat-out refusal. Jesus, however, knows a thing or two about entertaining his audience, so he puts the most absurd excuses imaginable in the mouths of those who refused.

#1 - "I just bought a field, and I'm going to go check it out." Really?  You bought a piece of property, sight-unseen? "I just signed the lease on a house, and I'm on my way to go see what kind of condition it's in." Who does that?
This one gets even better when you remember that it's likely evening when the banquet is going to be served. "I'm going to go examine this field--in the dark!

#2 - "I just bought five teams of oxen, and I have to go see if they're any good at pulling a plow." Seriously? That's like saying, "I just bought a car, and I'm going now to take it for a test-drive." And again, you're going to go do this in the dark? Maybe he's gonna meet up with moron #1 in the gravel pit he just sold him.

#3 - "I just got married." This is the most plausible of the three, I guess. I always want to respond to this one with, "Bring her along with you!"
Of course, maybe he's saying, "I'm sorry. I just got married, so I'm not really in a celebratory mood." Ouch. OR, (and consider again the culture Jesus is telling this in) "I'd love to come, but my wife won't let me."

At any rate, they all say "no," and are excluded, and the food is served to the outcasts and outsiders. What I love about Jesus here is the fact that he could have just said, "And they all made excuses and refused to come."* Instead, he goes the extra mile and makes us laugh a little.

*Of course, Jesus may be making an additional point, that there is NO good excuse for rejecting God's invitation. Instead of making us giggle, perhaps we should cringe instead at our own equally-flimsy proffered excuses.

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