The Stories Jesus Told: The Great Banquet, Luke 14:15–24
December 19, 2017
by Peter Amsterdam
The Stories Jesus Told: The Great Banquet, Luke 14:15–24
The setting in which Jesus told the parable of the great banquet was a Sabbath meal that He was eating at the house of a prominent Pharisee. During the meal, He gave some instruction about invitations to banquets, noting that one shouldn’t limit one’s guests to only those who could reciprocate by later inviting the host to a meal. He said:
When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.1
Upon hearing this, someone at the table responded:
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”2
In saying this, the person at the table was opening the door for Jesus to explain His views about what was known as the “messianic banquet”—the Jewish understanding of what would occur at the end of time. The book of Isaiah speaks about this banquet:
On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.3
While this passage refers to all people being at the feast and all people having their tears wiped away, by Jesus’ time the common understanding among the Jewish people was that these verses excluded Gentiles (non-Jews). The dinner guest who proclaimed “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God” did so with the underlying assumption that the Pharisees would be present at that banquet.4 Jesus, however, had a different view of who would sit at the “messianic table.” Rather than responding as would have been expected, by saying something about keeping the Mosaic law and how the law keepers would sit with the Messiah at the banquet, Jesus told them a story.
“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But 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.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’
So the servant came and reported these things to his master. 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.’
And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”5
In those days, when someone was hosting a banquet, an initial invitation would be given informing those invited as to the day of the feast. At the time of this initial invitation, those invited would say whether they could come or not, and when agreeing to come they were making a commitment. This commitment was important, as Kenneth Bailey explains:
In a traditional Middle Eastern village, the host of the banquet invites a group of his friends. On the basis of the number of people who accept the invitation, he decides how much and what kind of meat he will serve. On the day of the banquet, animals or fowl are butchered and the banquet prepared. When everything is ready, the master will send his servant around the village with the classical phrase, “Please come, everything is ready.”6
The banquet in Jesus’ story is a large one, and the host has “invited many.” He knows how many have accepted the invitation and has prepared accordingly. At the appointed time, the servant goes and informs them that it’s time to come. Up until this point, everything is seen as proceeding as normal, but then the listeners are jolted by the shocking statement that those who were invited to the feast refuse to honor the invitation—they all alike began to make excuses.
Everyone listening to the story understood that the refusal to come was a deliberate insult to the host. He was being publicly shamed in the eyes of his village. The excuses given for not honoring their commitment are lame and unacceptable.
The first guest’s excuse is ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it.’ Those listening to the parable know that this is a bold-faced lie. Buying property sight unseen was unheard of.
No one buys a field in the Middle East without knowing every square foot of it like the palm of his hand. The springs, wells, stone walls, trees, paths, and anticipated rainfall are all well-known long before a discussion of the purchase is even begun. Indeed, these items must be known, for in the past they were carefully included in the contract.7
The excuse given to the servant of the host is intended to be an insult, though at least the first guest asks to be excused.
Another guest gives the excuse that he has bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. This is another lame excuse, as no one would buy a team of oxen without first testing them, let alone buy five teams without first checking them out. Before purchasing a team of oxen, the buyer would go to the seller’s land, yoke the oxen together, and do some plowing. He would need to test their strength and see if they will plow together, and if not, he wouldn’t buy them. This second excuse is also a fabrication and is insulting.
The third guest says he has married a wife and therefore he can’t come. Even the way he phrases his excuse is offensive in the culture of the day, as males were extremely reluctant to speak of female family members. He’s telling the host that even though the meal is in the late afternoon and he will only be away from home for a few hours and will be back in the arms of his new bride that evening, he won’t come, as other activities have priority to him. He doesn’t even bother to ask to be excused; he simply states that he can’t come. This is extremely rude and offensive.
The beginning of the parable tells us that many were invited to the banquet, and also that they all alike began to make excuses. The three who refused to attend the banquet are representative, and the original listeners would have understood that others who originally committed to coming also made excuses in order to not attend. It would have been understood that the man hosting the feast was a man of means, and that at least two of those refusing were also sufficiently well-off, as only those who were fairly well-off could have used the excuse that they had made large purchases.
Joel Green wrote:
The identification of these would-be guests as persons of wealth and probable status would not have been lost on Jesus’ table companions, whose reactions might have ranged from the shock of hearing a host of means being snubbed by guests of substance, to the knowing nod as they recognized the behavior of the would-be guests as a calculated move to shame this man.8
When the master of the house recognizes that the guests’ intent is to shame and humiliate him, he justifiably becomes angry. Under the circumstances, he could respond with verbal insults or even threaten some action which would punish those who have attacked his personal honor in public. However, though he is angry, he responds with grace instead of vengeance. While those originally invited were the host’s peers, who would have been expected to reciprocate by inviting the host for a similar meal sometime in the future, the host decides to invite those who could never reciprocate—the poor, maimed, blind, and lame. In framing the parable in this way, Jesus makes reference to the outcasts within Israel, the common people who were gladly receiving His message.
Kenneth Bailey explains:
These folk are now welcomed into the banquet even though they are not worthy to be seated with such a noble host and the possibility of their repaying him with a similar banquet is out of the question.9
The master of the house breaks away from the social norm. He doesn’t limit his guests to those with power, means, and privilege; instead, he includes anyone who will come to his table. Following his master’s orders, the servant goes to the streets and lanes of the town in order to find those normally considered to have lower social status, those who were looked on as outcasts. He not only invites them to the banquet, but he brings them as well.
Having done so, he tells the host that the banquet is not yet full, there is still room for others. The master then instructs him to go beyond the town to find outsiders, those not members of the community, and to compel them to come to the feast. The idea of “compelling” these folks doesn’t mean that they are being forced to attend. Because of social customs, these outsiders must refuse the unexpected invitation, especially if they are of lower social status than the host. They are not relatives or even neighbors of the host; they are outsiders, and there is no way they can reciprocate, so according to society’s rules, they must refuse. Knowing this, the servant must take each one by the arm and gently guide him along, in order to demonstrate that the invitation is genuine.10
The last phrase of the parable, For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet, may have been addressed to the Pharisees Jesus was dining with, rather than being part of the parable. The “you” in “for I tell you” is plural. In the parable, the master of the house was previously speaking to the servant, so if this last line was part of the parable directed to the servant, the “you” would have been singular. Therefore, many commentators agree that Jesus addressed this last line to those He was eating with.
What was the message that Jesus was conveying to the original listeners? His focus was the spurned invitations to the banquet by one group, and invitations extended to others unexpectedly. The excuses given by the invited guests all have to do with being preoccupied with the everyday business of life and relations. They excluded themselves by their choice not to attend. They spurned the host and his invitation, giving reasons related to possessions and family, reflecting some of the reasons that individuals have refused God’s invitation throughout history.
The question put forth in the parable is: who will be present at the banquet? Jesus’ answer was unexpected. The common Jewish belief was that anyone born of a Jewish mother was automatically going to be attending the “messianic banquet” by right of being Jewish. Jesus was making the point that those who assume they will be present at the endtime banquet may very well not be. In reality, attendance at the banquet is based on one’s response to God’s invitation.11
Jesus taught this concept through His words and actions throughout the Gospels, as He ate with tax collectors and sinners.12 He said:
I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.13
Klyne Snodgrass wrote:
Jesus’ eating with toll collectors and sinners is a demonstration of the presence of the kingdom in His ministry and the forgiveness available to those who respond.… The point of these texts and of the parable of the Banquet can be summarized with a statement and a question: God is giving a party. Are you going to come?14
Attending the banquet depends on responding to the invitation. Many throughout the world take it for granted that they will be in attendance at the banquet, thinking that they have the right beliefs, belong to the right group, do charitable works, are favorably looked upon by others, etc. However, Jesus’ teaching in this parable and elsewhere points out that those who expect to be there aren’t necessarily included, and many who don’t expect it are.15 We don’t attend the banquet on our terms; we must accept the invitation and attend, not letting the cares of this life distract us.
Being at the table with the host, eating delicious food, drinking excellent wine, and fellowshipping with the other guests are concepts that convey joy and happiness. In a sense, we are like the servant going out and inviting others to Jesus’ table. Our message should be one of joy, of sharing His love for all. Often, those who are full of the cares and concerns of this life pay little attention to the invitation; nevertheless, we should do our best to make sure they understand they are invited. Our focus should not be restricted to the socially acceptable, the educated and wealthy, or those who can in some way reciprocate. The invitation is to all, including the social outcasts and those we may be uncomfortable with.
The message of the kingdom is grace. There is nothing anyone can do to merit the invitation to the banquet. We are simply invited, and must only accept. It is through grace that we are saved. But each one must make the decision of whether to receive grace; of whether they will come to the party or not.
The Great Banquet, Luke 14:15–24
15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.
17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 But 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.’
19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’
20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’
21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. 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.’
22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’
23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.
24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved
1 Luke 14:13–14.
2 Luke 14:15.
3 Isaiah 25:6–8 NIV.
4 Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51–24:53 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996),1272.
5 Luke 14:16–24.
6 Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 313.
7 Kenneth E. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 95.
8 Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 560.
9 Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 317.
10 Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes, 108.
11 Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 314.
12 Matthew 9:10–12; Mark 2:15–17; Luke 5:29–32.
13 Matthew 8:11–12.
14 Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 314.
15 Matthew 7:21; Luke 10:21.