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Sermon on the Mount
64. Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:12-24)
Eugène Burnand, detail of 'Invitation to the Feast' (1899), oil on canvas, 470x220 cm., Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (full painting)
It's easy to become complacent, calloused, and careless. In a strange way, the parable Jesus' told at a Pharisee's table has a way of stirring us and infusing us with God's heart and perspective.
Jesus has been invited for Sabbath dinner at the home of a leading Pharisee. The house is filled with the Pharisee's socially prominent guests who are all experts in the Law. Jesus heals a man suffering from dropsy and then comments on the social-climbing proclivities of guests who take the best seat to advance their social status.
"Then Jesus said to his host, 'When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.'
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, 'Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.'" (14:12-15)
Invite those who can't repay you, Jesus says, for then you have an opportunity to receive a reward from God. Just inviting those of the same or higher social standing is its own reward. You have an opportunity to receive a blessing from God, he tells his host. Don't blow it.
This prompts one of the pious guests at the table to comment on the Great Banquet, voicing a common expectation of Judaism at the time concerning salvation in God's Kingdom.602
"Jesus replied: 'A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.'" (14:16)
Two elements to note here: (1) This is to be a "great" banquet, and (2) many guests are invited. The host has planned a large feast with room for a great number of guests. This is no small, intimate gathering.603
Eugène Burnand, 'Invitation to the Feast' (n.d.) (larger image)
"At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'" (14:17)
While it may seem strange in light of invitation practices in the twenty-first century, in the first century world the invitation was two-fold: (1) the initial invitation some time ahead, and (2) the actual summons to the meal when it is ready, and is attested both in Jewish and Roman settings.604
The host has planned the feast based on the number of guests invited -- and those who had not previously indicated that they would not be present. Once the host has determined how many guests have accepted his invitation, then he is able to determine how many animals are to be killed and cooked. Bailey gives us an idea of the decisions involved. A chicken or two would suffice for 2 to 4 guests, a duck for 5 to 8, a kid for 10 to 15, a sheep for 15 to 35 people, or a calf for 35 to 75 people.605 In our passage Jesus is referring to a large feast where the host had invited "many guests."
Not to come to a banquet where one had previously indicated acceptance was a grave breach of social etiquette. It was an insult to the host. In a society where one's social standing was determined by peer approval -- who is invited to whose dinners -- this was an act of social insult as well. For a whole series of guests to reject the final summons appears to be a conspiracy to discredit the host. Joel Green says:
"In this instance, the socially elite of the host's community close ranks against him and shame him publicly. Whatever one makes of their excuses, their refusal to join the great dinner is a social strategy the effect of which is the host's defamation."606
"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
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.'" (14:18-20)
In the story Jesus tells, all the invitees now begin to make excuses. The Greek phrase used, apo mias pantes, means "from the first, all...." The rejection was unanimous. But the excuses are lame, and the three Jesus mentions are representative of the rest.
The first has just bought a field and must inspect it. But surely no one buys a field sight unseen. The second has just bought five pairs of oxen and must try them out. But no one buys five pairs of oxen without testing them first. These two excuses are flimsy on the surface. Both indicate men of wealth. Purchasing property is a wealthy man's luxury. Five yoke of oxen are for an estate; one or two pairs of oxen would be adequate for a small farm.607
The third excuse, that the guest has just been married, also is lame. When he accepted the invitation he would have known of his wedding plans. That was the time to politely decline. But to back out at the last minute is an act of calculated rudeness.
"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.'" (14:21)
You can't blame the host for being angry when he hears of this rude affront and unanimous rejection by his social peers. He is livid! So he tells his servant to do what would have been social suicide had he not have already been rejected -- invite the lower classes. But now it is an act that says, "I'll show them!" The host will not have an empty house at his feast. He will have guests!
The list of guests to be invited is identical to the list Jesus had suggested to his Pharisee host in verse 13 -- those who could not repay him by inviting him in return -- the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.
But the servant knows his master and has anticipated his command.
"'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has
been done, but there is still room.'
Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.'" (14:22-23)
The first sweep of the town included "broad, main streets or public squares" (platys) and "narrow streets, lanes, alleys" (rumē).608 The second sweep was outside the town in the rural areas, the "road, highway" (hodos)609 and "fences, hedges" (phragmos).610 Inside the town would be the poor, the beggars, the indigent. But outside the town would be the vagabonds and sojourners, those who were shunned and unwelcome in the towns.
Such people would have felt very uncomfortable at the feast of a rich man, socially very out of place. Additionally, it was a custom to politely refuse to come until pressed to -- kind of like politely refusing to take a second helping at a meal until the host says, "Oh, but you must!" and then passing your plate happily to receive more. The Greek word used is anankazō, "compel, force," of inner and outer compulsion, and then weakened, "strongly urge/invite, urge upon, press."611 The rich man hasn't sent out soldiers to sweep the area, round up everyone, and march them to his house. But he has instructed his servants not to take "No" for an answer. To encourage and strongly urge everyone they meet to accept this invitation.
The host's house must be full. He will not be made a fool of. He will have a full house!
Jesus closes the parable in a curious way, almost as if he is voicing the words of the host himself.
"I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet." (14:24)
It is a sentence that is filled with hurt and anger at rejection. It is a resolution not to give into this social slight. But as we read it, we almost hear the voice of the Father at the rejection of his rebellious people.
In interpreting the parable we need to be careful not to over-allegorize, that is, to find a correspondent meaning for every detail of the story. But this parable is an allegory, and has a similar message to the Parable of the Tenants (20:9-19).
The host is God the Father, inviting his people Israel to the messianic banquet in the Kingdom of God. The rich and socially elite, who reject at the last minute the host's invitation, are the Pharisees and Jewish religious establishment, who begin to plot against Jesus and eventually render the ultimate insult of having Jesus executed as a common criminal. The poor and downtrodden are the common people, considered unclean by the Pharisees. Perhaps, those inside the town are the Jews, while those in the outlying areas are the Gentiles. But beyond that level of allegory I don't believe we should go.
As I meditate on the Parable of the Great Banquet I am impressed with a number of themes:
1. Rejection and Insult
We feel badly when we are rejected, but what about the Father? Think of his grief and broken heart. Think of his anger and mercy. I recall the verses at the beginning of John's Gospel that express this:
"He came to that which was his own, but his own did
not receive him.
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God --
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband's will,
but born of God." (John 1:11-13)
Jesus told us,
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me." (John 15:18-21)
This parable is a bittersweet reminder of rejection, but also of mercy.
2. Mercy and grace
The second theme I see is one of grace and mercy. Those who are not worthy to come to the host's table -- the poor, lame, crippled, blind -- are now invited. That is you and that is me. We are unworthy to eat at our Host's table, but we have been invited and cleansed. How true it is: "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God" (14:15b).
As I read the servant's invitation, "Come, for everything is now ready," my mind begins singing the gospel hymn by Charlotte G. Homer and W.A. Ogden:
"All things are ready," come to the feast!
Come, for the table now is spread;
Ye famishing, ye weary, come and thou shalt be richly fed.
Hear the invitation, come, 'whosoever will.'
Praise God for full salvation for 'whosoever will.'
This is God's mercy, pure and simple.
A third, and closely related theme is evangelism. The poor, lame, crippled, and blind are now sought out. They are not just invited, but they are sought out and urged, compelled, to accept the invitation. The poor and oppressed among the Jewish people are in view, but also the Gentiles. We are the servants, and bring a marvelous message of invitation and acceptance and forgiveness. We must take our role seriously and urge the invitation wherever we are. This is not a take-it-or-leave-it task. It is a mission, the mission of the Host, and we must fulfill it.
But those who reject the invitation -- for whatever reason -- will not taste of the Master's banquet. We bear good news, but with humility and sadness, realizing that contained within the very message are the seeds of judgment. However, it's not like we are damning people by telling them the Good News. Actually, the Good News is their only hope -- they are already under God's judgment for their sins. It's only that deliberately rejecting the invitation invites greater judgment, and that saddens us.
5. Lame Excuses
I am sorry to say that, in the lame excuses of the original guests, I hear some of my own shallow excuses for not doing God's will. We may be able to convince ourselves that what we are doing is noble, but I am afraid that way too often our excuses are an insult to God. He is the Host and he is the Master of the house. It is God's mercy that we are not consumed!
6. God's Plan
The final theme that I see here is one of God's plan. The host has prepared food for a large number of guests, and he won't be satisfied until his house is completely full.
"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
I get the feeling -- though this is not inherent in the parable before us -- that as soon as the last place is taken at the banquet, the door will be shut and the feast will begin. The Father is lingering, waiting for each and every seat to be taken, and the End will not come until that has occurred. We catch a hint of this in Second Peter:
"Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming." (2 Peter 3:11-12)
I believe we can "speed" the coming of the Day of the Lord by evangelism. "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).
As we do throughout the Bible. we see the themes of free will and predestination intertwined -- God's established purpose, our obedience to serve him, and the acceptance of the invitation by those we speak to. How it all fits together God only knows.
This parable is shocking socially. It is also sobering and urgent. May God use it to urge you to thankfulness and obedience, too.
Father, in this parable I sense your hurt and your urgency. Please help me to share your heart. Your sorrow, you love for the poor, and the urgency of your invitation. Shake complacency out of me. Help me to be a worthy and obedient bearer of your invitation. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
"The master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.'" (Luke 14:23)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- What did the pious guest in 14:15 believe about the feast in the Kingdom of God?
- How credible are the invited guests' excuses for not coming? (14:18-20) Who do the invited guests in the parable represent?
- Why is the host angry? (14:21)
- The host commands his servant to invite the poor and outcast both inside the town and outside in the rural areas. Who do these two groups probably represent?
- Why is the host urgent about his invitation in 14:21-23?
- What is the fine line between "compelling" people to come to the Lord, and gently leading them, fully respecting their own free will? How can we have both urgency and respect at the same time?
- How does this parable illustrate the Father's judgment and his mercy?
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.
 See my notes on Luke 13:28-30 above.
 Apparently Jesus had told this parable in another form at another time. Matthew 22:1-14 relates a similar parable, with several differences. The host is a king in Matthew, "a certain man" in Luke. The occasion is a wedding banquet for a son in Matthew, a "great banquet" in Luke. Those who make excuses and abuse the king's servants in Matthew are destroyed by the enraged king; in Luke they are promised that they will not taste of the banquet. Finally Matthew's account introduces a guest who isn't wearing wedding clothes. I see Matthew's version as a similar parable given at a different time. Surely Jesus repeated his parables dozens or hundreds of times in his itinerant teaching. This parable is also preserved in the Gospel of Thomas, in form somewhat similar to Luke's account (Gospel of Thomas, 64).
 Esther 6:14; La. R 4:2; Strack and Billerback I, 880f; Philo, Opif 78; Terence, Heaut. 169f; Apuleius Met. 3:12, cited by Marshall, Luke, pp. 587-588.
 Kenneth E. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes (Eerdmans, 1980), p. 94, cited by Green, Luke, p. 558, fn. 151.
 Green, Luke, p. 559.
 Jeremias, Parables.
 Marshall, Luke, p. 590.
 Hodos, BDAG 690-692.
 Phragmos, BDAG 1064.
 Anankazō, BDAG 60.
In-depth Bible study books
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- Songs of Ascent (Ps 120-134)
- 1, 2, and 3 John
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter & Jude
- 1 & 2 Thessalonians
- 1 & 2 Timothy
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- Apostle Paul
- Abraham, Faith of
- Christ Powered Life (Romans 5-8)
- Christmas Incarnation
- Colossians and Philemon
- Conquering Lamb of Revelation
- David, Life of
- Glorious Kingdom, The
- Great Prayers of the Bible
- Holy Spirit, Disciple's Guide
- Jacob, Life of
- Jesus and the Kingdom of God
- JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
- John's Gospel
- Lamb of God
- Listening for God's Voice
- Lord's Supper
- Luke's Gospel
- Moses the Reluctant Leader
- Names and Titles of God
- Names and Titles of Jesus
- Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
- Resurrection and Easter Faith
- Sermon on the Mount
- Seven Last Words of Christ