Eating is a form of thanksgiving and table fellowship is sacred. Jewish table grace went something like this: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” When we eat we are acknowledging that God has provided for our needs. When we sit down at table with someone we communicate acceptance, unity, intimacy, and tolerance. (There are many other aspects of table fellowship in the Near East. For a popular level understanding see Aaron Chambers’s Eats with Sinners. For a more technical read see Craig Blomberg’s Contagious Holiness.)
Jesus ate regularly with sinners and tax collectors (Luke 15:1, 2), but he also ate with the religious and the elite (7:36-50). Jesus’ table was long. It reached out. Luke emphasized this wide embrace of Jesus’ table more than the other Gospel writers. Luke 14 is largely about the theme, “Dinner with Jesus.” In the first scene Jesus healed a man with dropsy or edema, an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the body. This took place in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees (vv. 1-6). In the second scene Jesus told a parable about the seating chart at banquets. Don’t rush for the best seats (vv. 7-11). The third scene morphed into our text (vv. 12-14). Jesus accepted the invitation to a banquet but reminded the guests to invite people who cannot reciprocate. This led into the parable of the great banquet.
During the banquet that Jesus attended, someone at the table said, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Was this person trying to sound super spiritual by talking about Heaven when Jesus seemed to be talking about earth? Was he stating an eschatological fact that someday people will eat at the marriage feast of the lamb (Revelation 19:9)? Was he trying to change the subject since Jesus challenged the guests to invite people on the low rung of the social ladder?
Regardless of the man’s intent, Jesus launched into a parable to stress what he taught in prose in the previous paragraph, i.e. invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. A great (mega) banquet was prepared. The host invited many guests. This is not foreign to our culture, but in Jesus’ day to refuse such an invitation was close to high treason. People who refused such invitations brought shame on their families. Usually a series of invitations were sent out. If a person did not respond to the first invitation he would surely respond to the second. The beauty of the phrase is hard to miss, “Come, for everything is now ready.”
Here the parable broke open into the sublime and ridiculous. This is where the parable left true-to-life and moved to fiction. Would someone really make up excuses like these? As far as the ancient world goes all we could say is, “Well, I suppose it could happen, but . . .” These were lousy excuses (a word that actually means to “beg off”).
The excuses covered several categories of real life, such as real estate, farm equipment, and the home. Wouldn’t a person view and inspect property before buying it? Wouldn’t a farmer try out farm equipment (oxen) before purchasing it? At least in the first two instances people asked to be excused. The third excuse was more brazen. “I just got married, so I can’t come.” There was no plea to be excused here. The excuses were so lousy some at the banquet table must have laughed out loud.
When the servant reported (one of the words for preaching in the New Testament) the lousy excuses, the owner of the house became angry. The owner of the house is a reference to God, and when he gets angry, it is not the kind of anger that just blows up. Instead it is the settled anger of righteous indignation. The owner ordered that other people (from the social categories mentioned earlier) be invited. The servant obeyed, but still there was room at this mega banquet. So the master sent the servant out again to the roads and the country lanes to compel the people who camped alongside of the roads to come in to the banquet.
The house was full, but with different guests than would be expected. Their worthiness to attend the banquet was based solely on their acceptance of the owner’s invitation. The parable ended in judgment. Those first invited would not enjoy feasting at the master’s table.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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