The Parable of the Great Banquet
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, "Blessed are those who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God."
16 Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'
18 "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.'
19 "Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.'
20 "Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'
21 "The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'
22 " 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'
23 "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.' "
When my oldest son was much younger he used to have a real problem with the boy down the street. He hated the boy down the street and got to where he couldn’t even stand to hear him being talked of. He was convinced that the boy down the street was out to get him and take his place. The problem was that the boy down the street did not exist. He was a fictitious character that my wife would reference when she was trying to make a point to our son about his attitude of ungratefulness or entitlement. If he didn’t like what we were having for supper, that was fine, she would say, “I’m sure the little boy down the street would enjoy this food,” which would cause him, of course to gobble it up. If he claimed to be bored and didn’t like any of his toys, then my wife would just mention that perhaps we could give all of his toys to the boy down the street. She was sure that he would love to play with them. Whenever he didn’t like something or tried to make an excuse for why he didn’t want to do something or go somewhere with us, a quick reference to the little boy down the street usually got him right in line. (I do offer a disclaimer that we were young Christian parents who had a lot to learn and have since learned that in this context this was not the best thing to do. I also point out that, overall, our son was a very grateful and respectful young man.) He just could not stomach the thought of the little boy down the street having his stuff and he would suddenly think much more highly of his things than he had before any mention was made of that little guy down the street.
Jesus has been warning those listening to him at this meal about the danger of thinking that they had cornered the market on the kingdom of God and had a place at God’s table regardless of anything. It was quite perilous to begin to think that they had a rightful spot in God’s future while others would surely be cut out. In fact, Jesus goes on in this section to really drive that point home. They were in danger of far more than just trying to shut others out of a party that they were already at. They were in very real danger of not coming to the party at all. And when that happened, those that they were sure would have no place at the party would be the very ones at the party enjoying their spot at the table and eating the food that they fancied belonged to them.
It’s impossible to know what was going through the mind of the guest who uttered out the blessing in verse 15 but it surely seems like it was an awkward moment to say the least. Perhaps the best explanation is that he missed the whole point of the fact that Jesus was telling them much more than just how they should behave at dinner parties and who they should invite to banquets. He was warning them that they were in very real danger of not being part of God’s family that would be part of the great banquet that was the resurrection of the righteous.
It was the resurrection age, after all, that most Jews looked forward to. That was the time when God would right the wrongs of the world and return to his people to rule eternally in the age to come. Jesus never denounced that view, in fact he confirmed it in many ways, with one very important change. He was the resurrection (Jn. 11:25) and only those who were in Christ and part of God’s family through him would take part in the resurrection. He was also the life (Jn. 11:25) which meant that the Messiah’s people could start to live by the reality of the resurrection age right now in the present.
It does appear that the man that offered up the blessing was missing the whole warning aspect of what Jesus was saying. “Blessed are those who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” In other words, he appears to be saying something like “well, at least we know we will all be enjoying the age to come.” Based on Jesus’ response, it’s also quite probable that he was implying that they, their “brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors” (Lk. 14:12) would be the kind that would be at the great banquet (keep in mind that the banquet was merely a symbol for the age to come), while the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind might need to be taken care of now according to Jesus’ teaching, but it was highly unlikely that they would ever be at the great banquet.
Jesus’ only response to the man’s blessing was a parable about a man who was throwing a great banquet; certainly an appropriate metaphor considering the subject matter. The man prepared for a banquet by inviting many guests. This would have been an important matter because it was key to have the right kind of guests at banquets, as your guests spoke volumes in the eyes of others about who you were. In addition to that, great banquets were often viewed as symbols that pointed to the great banquet of the resurrection age, so it was important that sinners, the lame, the sick, and the unworthy were not present.
Yet, when the servant was sent out to tell the guest that the time had come for the banquet to begin he received nothing but excuses. The types of excuses given seem to draw heavily from the types of excuses that would get someone out of preparing for war in Deuteronomy 20:5-7 and 24:5. The people that fell under those categories would not have to go off to war and could stay and handle their business. Just as following Jesus in his kingdom was more demanding than following Elijah (see commentary on Lk. 9:57-62), so would preparing for the great banquet require more commitment than even the preparation for holy war.
In addition to that, Leviticus 21: 17-23 stated that no one who was poor, crippled, blind, or lame could offer bring an offering to God as a priest. No one with a defect could serve in that role. This was designed to point God’s people to the idea that they needed a high priest who was perfect and without defect but many Jews of Jesus day had instead grabbed onto the idea that those blemished individuals would be excluded altogether from the age to come (this idea is quite present in the Qumran writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls).
There might have been some good reasons to exclude oneself from a national war but those excuses would not hold up to excuse yourself from following the Messiah’s invitation to the kingdom of God. To do so would be disastrous. It would be to incur the wrath of the host who would respond not with a further plea to attend but with a determination to fill the spot of the original guest. This was what Israel was in danger of doing. They were running the very real risk of not responding to their invitation and then finding out that it was too late. The spots at the banquet were going to the very types of people that they thought would be excluded from the banquet for sure. The very people that they thought were unworthy to ever be in God’s kingdom were the ones that had shown up to a party they didn’t even know was going on.
There may be significance to the fact that the servants first went out into the streets and alleys of the town bringing in those who had been outcast. Jesus may have had in mind his own ministry as well as the early days of his disciples following his resurrection when they would go around inviting those who were last in the eyes of the Jewish society into the kingdom of God. Yet, that number was small. There were still many seats at the table. The servants were sent back out to the roads and country lanes, outside of the city (perhaps this was symbolism for Israel) to find anyone who wanted to join the party. If they wanted to join, there was plenty of room for them. Israel’s place at the table would be given not only to a remnant of sinners and outcasts from Israel but also to the pagans and Gentiles.
That’s what God’s kingdom was like, Jesus let them know in no uncertain terms. His family is not about being good enough or being the right type of person. It comes down to nothing more than accepting the invitation as it was given. Those who truly wanted to join in on the great banquet in the age to come would be those who embraced the idea that all would be welcome into the kingdom of God. It was not an exclusive club that was only open to the right people. Anyone who was humble enough to know that they needed to trust in the life of Christ rather than anything about themselves would be welcome into the great banquet of the kingdom of God.
Our challenge is to ensure that we our embracing and living out in our churches the kind of kingdom that Jesus envisioned. What does it mean in our time and in our communities to be the type of family and to share the kind of kingdom announcement that is good news to those who are at the bottom? To embrace the kingdom of God means to embrace the rich, the poor, the socially acceptable, and the social outcasts. It means to realize that we are part of a family that is open and welcome to anyone who desires the transforming power of the kingdom of God in their lives.
Have you accepted the invitation to join in on the banquet? If not, what does this passage tell us about those who make excuses rather than accepting the invitation. If you have already come to the party of the kingdom of God then are you making sure that you are one of those that are extending that invitation along the roads and country lanes and to those who have felt shut out?