Our Scripture today is sometimes called the parable of the great banquet. It’s part of a larger set of material in Luke 14 where Jesus is at a banquet or fancy meal in a Pharisee’s home.
And there is some tension. Have you ever been at a meal where there was tension? Jesus has just healed someone on the Sabbath right in front of them, which we know wold make them unhappy. Then he went on to criticize how they all wanted the best seats at the banquet. And then we come to our passage, where the tension increases even more.
The parable of the great banquet
Eating bread in the kingdom.
15When one of those who reclined at table with Jesus heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
“Eating bread in the kingdom” is a reference to the end time banquet that will take place on the final day. This is talked about in several places in Scripture (e.g. Luke 22:16; Revelation 19:9) but the root idea comes from Isaiah 25:6-8. This Scripture talks about how, after the resurrection, all God’s people will gather and have a great feast of celebration of God’s salvation and love.
Now, those at the table with Jesus were all assuming that as outstanding people of Israel, the chosen ones – and Pharisees at that, the best of the best in their minds, they would surely be a part of this. But Jesus’ parable challenges this assumption.
16But Jesus said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
Giving “a great banquet” was a practice of the upper class in this part of the ancient world. It would have been an important social event where connections were made and strengthened.
This double action of inviting people, and then going to summon them when the meal was ready was common practice for such a banquet (for a biblical example see Esther 6:14). So the food is on the table, as it were.
By way of interpretation, here Jesus is talking about many in Israel, especially the leaders and other outstanding members of the nation, who have been invited or chosen, if you will, to take part in the kingdom banquet and God’s salvation on the final day.
18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21So the servant came and reported these things to his master.
These three representative excuses are all inadequate:
- The one who bought a field could have seen it another time.
- The one who bought the oxen could go examine them at another time.
- The one who just got married wasn’t forbidden to come to a social event.
In any case, none were forced to accept the invitation in the first place, so to bail out at the last minute is a rude rejection of the host.
These verses speak to how many in Israel, including the leaders and other important people, didn’t have time for Jesus. Why didn’t they have time? Because they were caught up in their earthly lives with finances and possessions – the first two examples are of people who are relatively well off, and family with getting married and the responsibilities of family life. They were so immersed in this life that they rejected his call to the kingdom banquet.
And this is exactly what was happening in Jesus’ ministry at this stage.
Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’
He is angry at their unjustified rejection. Yet he has a meal ready and really wants to share it, so he instructs his servant to go find some other people. And the servant is to do this “quickly,” because the meal is ready.
This second round of summons focuses on the city. The “streets and lanes” refer to city streets and back alleys. More literally, both wide roads and narrow roads.
The servant is to bring in “the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Since in this day these would have relied on begging, it makes sense that they would be found on the streets and lanes of the city. (These are the same people that Jesus teaches us to invite to banquets that we give – 14:13). Those who were more upper class rejected the invitation, so now those who are rejected by society – the lowly, needy and broken are invited to come.
These verses speak to how the elites of Israel by and large rejected Jesus, despite his calling them to come. And how those who were outcasts have responded to him, those thought to be rejected by God. (Luke 7:22)
22And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and urge people to come in, that my house may be filled.
The master really doesn’t want any empty seats. And so he sends out his servant a third time. If before the focus was on the streets and lanes of the city, now “the highways and hedges” seem to refer to the more rural areas outside of the city. “Hedges” can also refer to fence rows or dividers between fields.
Some translations use the word “compel,” but certainly there is no idea of force here, just as the original invitees were not forced to come. Rather the idea is that the servant is to urge them to come, perhaps especially since these others would not usually partake in such a banquet and would need some encouragement.
By way of interpretation, here Jesus speaks about continuing to find whoever to bring them in to the banquet – whether others in Israel, or later on as we see in the book of Acts, Gentiles.
Jesus’ words to the Pharisees.
24For I tell you (all), none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
Here we see that the story has ended and Jesus is speaking directly to the Pharisees. The ‘you’ here is plural. (There is only one servant in the story and so the master’s speech is singular). Although the parable has ended, we learn here that Jesus is the master or literally “Lord” of the story. And the great meal at the end of the world is, in his words here, “my” banquet.
Can you imagine? This guy talks about the end time banquet and the host of that is sitting next to him at this earthly banquet?
Jesus is saying here that those who were chosen to be invited, who assumed they would attend, certainly the leaders and supposedly devout ones of Israel, people like the Pharisees – they refuse Jesus’ invitation. And having rejected him, they certainly won’t taste of his kingdom banquet on the final day.
What we learn from this
1. Don’t make assumptions about your place at the banquet. I won’t say much about this. But anyone can fool themselves. The key is simply this, how have you responded to Jesus’ invitation to repent and be a part of the kingdom of God?
2. Jesus’ really wants his house to be full (v. 23). The ultimate reference is to the final day and the great feast. But for now it refers to his churches, the community of his kingdom people, who celebrate his meal, the Lord’s supper, as an anticipation of that final feast.
Jesus wants every seat filled on that day, and every seat filled among his congregations who await that day. And so we have some work to do.
3. Our job is to invite people to the banquet. We are the servant in this story. As we close, let me highlight four things about being Jesus’ servant.
- To invite we must “go out.” This phrase is used in vs. 21 & 23. We must go out into the streets and lanes; and into the highways and hedges. Into the city; and into the country, that is, all over. We can’t stay to ourselves. People will not come to our congregation if we stay to ourselves. We have to go out to them.
- We invite all. In the first and second summons we get the two extremes – those who are doing well on the one hand, and the poor, crippled, lame and blind on the other. These should be seen as the two extremes which include all the others in between (a merism). And the third summons doesn’t specify who is invited. The point is that no one is excluded from the invitation.
- We are to keep inviting, even if those we most expect to respond reject the invitation. And the special emphasis of this parable is on inviting the lowly, the needy and the broken. Just as in the parable, those who are doing well in terms of this life (finances and family) often don’t see their need because they are caught up in the things of this life and thus will reject our invitation. So when this happens we make sure we are inviting those who know their needs and are more likely to come.
- We are to urge people to come. Encourage them to come and receive of the blessings of the banquet that Jesus is giving.