The passage is organized by chronological order explaining the series of events on how many various types of people made excuses on why they were not able to attend the great banquet. While the first line of people invited were the wealthy and prosperous, the second line of attendees were those who were often never invited to anything let alone a banquet. When the master of the house heard his banquet hall was not full he ordered his servants to go out on the country roads to fill the rest of his house to all that could come. They end the parable by explaining to reader that those who have better things to do than to attend the banquet, do not belong at the banquet anyway.
The reader understands the beginning of the passage by how the author starts the story right after a member at the table with Jesus says, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15, ESV). The beginning of the parable is brought about in a fairy tale sort of way. As one would say, “Once upon a time” in a fair tale, the author starts the story with “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many” (Luke 14:16). While the parable does not end with a “happily ever after” or “the end” directly, it does a nice job of simply wrapping it up by saying, “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (Luke 14:24).
Jesus’ structure of choice was to often repeat words or phrases in a methodically parallel fashion. In this passage, He often reused the words “I have…” following the excuses of the original invitees. Those words “I have” imply that the ones who did not attend simply had other importances they would rather put before the great banquet the master had arranged.
Literary and theological context
In the broader context of the passage, Jesus uses the dinner setting in the Pharisee’s house to describe who will be invited into the Kingdom of God. He knows the Jewish culture had taught through their prophets how a King would come to save them. He also knew they expected a Kingdom which would be supreme above all else. The Jews of that time expected this Kingdom to come through the way of a powerful King. Even though the Old Testament prophets also spoke of a Lamb and of a Messiah, they clung to the presentation of a Savior in the form of a King. While they were not wrong, they were over focused on the power of the King and not the sacrifice of the King. Jesus knew of His impending death by the rejection of the Jews at that time and took this opportunity to teach them that the new Kingdom would be filled with Jews and Gentiles alike.
After reading the passage and the preceding verses, we do not know the motives of the Pharisees, but we do know however from Luke that Jesus is “being carefully watched”. Jesus heals a man and sends him on his way after asking the Pharisees if it was lawful to heal since it was the Sabbath day. The Pharisees remained silent. Jesus knew right then these same Pharisees, whom He was to have dinner with, were religious and not understanding of what the law was meant to teach. The Pharisees should have said, “Absolutely heal him!”, but instead were silent because they knew the dilemma of the question. If they said yes, they will have accepted His rogue authority and would have been embarrassed by His healing powers. But if they said no, they would have looked pious and like strict law abiders letting sick man go unhealed. So instead they remained silent.
Jesus clearly understood the Pharisees heart and how they would not accept him as their King or even the fact that He had greater authority then them. Using the healing before dinner, He had established His authority to them.
Now that the host and the all guest had entered into the house for dinner, Jesus then tells the parable of the wedding feast. In the parable, He speaks directly to the entire dinner audience on where they should sit. He warns of proud people who have prominence to assume they should sit near the host or at the places of honor. Instead, he says the guest should come to the dinner feast and find the lowest place left to sit. The guest will then display their own humility in action and will be exceptionally grateful to even be invited to the feast. Many people who think they should be invited will not have even be invited at all. As a guest in a wedding, it is truly an honor to be invited. Jesus finishes the wedding feast parable by posing the embarrassing situation of being reseated. What if you showed up to a wedding and sat by the host but then someone more important than you arrives and are requested to give up your seat? Now the only seat you can find is in the back. This would indeed be a key example of the proud being humbled verses the humble showing humility on their own accord. This humility is what Jesus says is right and will be rewarded even again in eternity. The proud person receives his reward right in that moment and that is all.
Now after that parable, the stage is set for Jesus to really start to reveal what the Kingdom of God will be like. He has healed a sick person, silenced the Pharisees twice and now has the attention of everyone sitting with Him at the table. In this context, He starts to describe who is included in the Kingdom of God. We were just informed that He includes the sick and the humble by His previous actions and teachings. The parable of the Great Banquet as Luke describes, is about the inclusion of all people on earth, living and past not only the Jews.
Jesus’ teaching to who will specifically be invited into the Kingdom of God can also be found throughout Isaiah and Hosea. Paul concludes and affirms this in Romans 9:22-29 where he clearly stated that God’s people were being redeemed for glory and how they were stated as Gentiles except for the remnant of Jews. Good theology which interprets scripture clearly, includes how Jesus’ came as a Redeemer King for all and not just a Conquering King like the Pharisee’s believed who would only hold a high position.
In concluding, I would add a key word and key principle in the passage is “Blessed”. This one single verse can be overlooked so quickly. The man said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15). He understood what it means to be the one who his blessed. If we were to do a deeper search on the word “Blessed,” surely Psalms 1 would come up which Psalm describes a “Blessed Man” who lives with a King, who’s every need is met and who lives spiritually with fruit. Truly this statement from a man to Jesus exposes his desire to be such a Blessed Man.
Historical, social and cultural Context
In the parable of the Great Banquet, it is important to understand the characters and setting in the historical and cultural sense of that time period. In this story, the Host of the banquet is God. The banquet, in that time in history, would take many days to put together and once the banquet started it may even last a few days because of the planning. Typically people of the day would walk everywhere sometimes up to 20 miles in a day, so if a guest accepted an invitation to a banquet it surely is something they’d put on their calendar circled in red. Each guest would need a decent quantity of time to plan what they were going to bring as a gift and what they are going to wear.
There is a historical analogy in comparing God’s patience in waiting for His guest to respond just like the patience and planning of the Host in this story. Surely God, the Host, has taken meticulous amounts of time to plan the guest list and the actual event. The sad part of this parable is the invited guests response. All of them are too busy to accept, the reasons were threefold. One man just bought a piece of land and needed to tend to it, the second man bought 5 oxen. In this context, these two men displayed their love of possessions over their love of the relationship which led to their invitation. The third man declines the invitation because he recently got married which demonstrates his love of pleasure with his wife over the invitation. This passage shows the timeless lessons of people loving things more than God which results in the rejection of His invitation into the Kingdom. The illustration Jesus used to show why His invitation was rejected is exactly the same today because people are still rejecting Him as a result of loving their possessions and passions more than the love the Kingdom.
During the time of Jesus, the social setting of the feast would have been filled with the most prominent people the host would have known. This would be like “name dropping” today showing everybody how important he was. The guest would need to have a very good excuse to miss the banquet or face being ousted from his inner group. If someone found out there was an invitation only banquet they would be very upset if they did not receive an invitation.
The host in the story becomes very flustered when the elite guest on his list state they can’t come. This constituted a personal insult to the host and the reaction of the host was to open the banquet up to anyone who would come instead of only the privileged few who were originally invited. First, he goes into the streets which represents all of the workers, the poor, the sick and anyone who lives in the commerce area. Next, he sends his servant into the countryside to invite even those who are unassociated with common society. Last, he invites the farmers, the travelers and the fishermen, those who are apart from ever receiving such an invitation to a banquet.
The host’s message is to compel anyone to come to the banquet. A banquet which required so much thought and planning, one could not start it until all the guest had arrived. God, the Host, has Jesus His servant sent out to invite and compel all to come into the Kingdom after the original guests, the Jews, had rejected His invitation.
The parable sadly ends with those who were originally invited to be banned instead from entering the feast. Jesus has taken the Pharisees dinner and used it to completely turn upside down their beliefs regarding the Kingdom of God. They thought with their high stature and knowledge of the scriptures they were the chosen ones the host in the parable would surely acknowledge with the place of honor. Instead they would not even make it into the Kingdom of God, but would instead be replaced by the poor, the sick, the beggars and all gentiles alike. After many such encounters with Jesus and His parables of teaching, they start plotting to get rid of Him and His challenges to their original powers and ways of tradition.
Jesus’ application of the parable is for everybody who is sitting with him for to understand the inclusiveness of the Kingdom of God. That message would be well received by those who didn’t feel worthy or felt out classed by the Pharisees that they sat with. They received hope that God the Father loved them enough to plan a banquet for them in detail that they would be included. The Pharisees would have felt the opposite listening to the same parable. They would have been angered and felt robbed of something they believed they had earned through works and stature. Surely every time they heard Jesus teach they had to get even angrier at this “man” who power over sickness and knowledge of the scriptures. Their whole political power structure was being taught against. Instead Jesus taught of free redemption, baptism and inclusion into the Kingdom.
Today and application could be that of a recent Thanksgiving trip to Hawaii. My father took the time to line up a beautiful place to stay, purchased very expensive airline tickets and planned the activities and meals for each day. Surely this planning took meticulous time starting over a year ago to pull off at Thanksgiving time. Then Thursday comes and it is time to pick a time for the big meal. Should we sit down at 1PM or 5PM the question is asked? The wife and daughter state that they will be shopping all day and that maybe they can just warm some up when they get back that evening. The son’s response is even worse. He states that he found some guys to surf with and they would be out until dark. They have a favorite Taco truck they like and would probably just grab a bite when they are done.
First the father feels complete disappointment that a year of planning and sacrifice for those closest in his family have rejected the time they should have had together. Next he feels righteous anger that they have picked something that is not important at all to replace time with him.
While the turkey is in the oven, father goes down to the beach and finds a couple who were just married and has no place to eat. He invites them. Next finds a hotel worker with no family and invites him. Finally while walking back he sees a homeless man and invites him. Everyone gratefully accepts.
The dinner is absolutely wonderful. The conversation is diverse and flows. All of the meal that was planned down to the cranberries and olives was eaten. Sadly nothing is left even for the family when they return. For the father this Thanksgiving was the best. His guest were lost and without and suddenly were included and filled. What a great day it was
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