Parable of the Great Banquet

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This is Part 10 in a series about reclaiming the true meaning of Jesus’ teachings (Part 9 here). Today I’ll cover The Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:16-24).

The Parable

A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 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.’ 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.’ 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.’ ‘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 compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’

The Background

As with many of Jesus’ parables, this parable is an indictment of the Pharisees for rejecting their long-awaited Messiah.

The setting is the same occasion as the Parable of the Wedding Feast: a meal at the house of a prominent Pharisee. Jesus had just issued a subtle warning to the Pharisees to abandon their pride and selfishness, but it wasn’t having the desired effect. In fact, one of the Pharisees makes a toast in verse 15, almost as if he’s patting himself on the back for being holy enough to earn salvation. So Jesus decides to abandon the subtle approach with this parable.

First, let’s consider the background. In First Century Palestine, a huge dinner party would require a tremendous amount of planning and preparation to pull off. Therefore, the host would send out the initial invitations well in advance, sort of like “save the date” cards. Anyone lucky enough to make the guest list, would have been bursting with excitement and more than willing to share that news with everyone they met. After all the preparations were made, the host would send messengers to summon all those who had been invited.

No one in his right mind would dream of missing such a rare event. Not only would the food be top notch, but it was also an excellent opportunity to be seen with influential people and improve your own social standing. Furthermore, to turn down such a generous invitation would have been an extreme breach of etiquette.

Given that background, this parable must have sounded ridiculously far-fetched to the Pharisees. For invited guests (who had presumably already accepted the initial invitation) to excuse themselves from the biggest social event of the year would have been inconceivable. To add insult to injury, they give the most absurd excuses imaginable.

In fact, the only realistic part of the parable is when the host becomes angry at having his generosity spurned and decides to invite some new guests so his food doesn’t go to waste. However, the parable quickly veers back into ludicrous territory when Jesus describes the newly expanded guest list: society’s untouchables as well as complete strangers, both rich and poor, from the surrounding highways and byways.

The Pharisees, who spent their lives scrupulously avoiding such people, must have been laughing out loud at this impossible scenario. And that’s when Jesus hit them with the punch line: “I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”

It’s interesting to read the original Greek here because one minute the imaginary host is talking to his servant using singular verbs, and suddenly Jesus switches to the plural form of you to make things personal. In other words, Jesus was saying to audience of Pharisees, “I tell y’all, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”

The Meaning

When Jesus called it my banquet, He was probably referring to Isaiah 25:6: “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.” In other words, Jesus was putting Himself on par with God.

The invited guests in the parable represent God’s chosen people, the Jews (Deuteronomy 7:6), and they received their initial invitation to the Lord’s banquet through the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. After hearing these prophecies for hundreds of years, the Jews were brimming with anticipation for the Messiah. They were expecting Him to arrive as a conquering hero, so when Jesus arrived as a suffering servant, many of the Jews wanted nothing to do with Him.

The scribes and Pharisees rejected the second invitation to the great banquet with a bunch of silly excuses. For example, they rejected Jesus because:

  • He performed miracles on the Sabbath (John 5:18).
  • He might give the Romans an excuse to destroy the Temple (John 11:48).
  • They loved human praise more than praise from God (John 12:42-43).

When the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus, He extended the invitation to both outcasts and foreigners alike (Matthew 9:9, Mark 10:52, and Acts 13:47). Unfortunately for the unbelieving Pharisees, this meant that Jesus had also pronounced eternal judgement upon them for their lack of faith. (Matthew 8:10-12).

Extra Credit

Jesus tells a very similar parable in Matthew 22:1-14, except for a few key differences:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

In this case, Jesus decided to kick things up a notch: instead of a rich man hosting a dinner party, this time it was a king hosting a wedding banquet for his son. This would have been the ultimate special occasion, lasting at least seven days. No one in the audience could possibly imagine a more important and exciting event than this.

As in the previous parable, the king sends out servants to summon all the people on the guest list, and just like before the guests insult the king by refusing to come. Except this time, the king demonstrates a supernatural level of patience by sending more servants to coax the guests into attending.

Incredibly, some of the guests don’t even bother to respond to the invitation, while others even go so far as to murder the messengers! The chief priests and Pharisees listening to Jesus tell this parable must have thought that the characters in the story were completely insane to behave like that.

The king in this parable represents God, and the son represents Jesus Christ. Once again, Jesus was describing how the Jews had been invited to the “wedding supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9), but instead of thanking God, they ended up murdering the prophets (Acts 7:52, Matthew 23:31, 2 Chronicles 36:15-16, and Nehemiah 9:26).

When Jesus described how the king in the parable declared war on the murderous guests and burned their city, He was giving the Pharisees a glimpse into their future. In 70 AD, God sent the Roman army under general Titus Vespasian to destroy both Jerusalem and the Temple (Luke 19:41-44), and many thousands of Jews were slaughtered.

Notice that the king says that those he invited did not deserve to come. The reason they were unworthy was because they rejected God’s invitation (John 3:36). Also, notice that the second group includes both bad and good people, yet Jesus said that no one is good except God alone (Mark 10:18). Describing the guests as both bad and good is simply referring to the fact that some people have committed greater sins than others. All are equally deserving of God’s eternal wrath, and all are made worthy when they repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ to forgive them.

The most interesting part of this parable is when the king notices a man at the wedding banquet who’s not properly dressed. It seems that this man had accepted the invitation, but he had not bothered to change out of his everyday clothes into something more appropriate for the occasion. He had dishonored the king by not having more respect for the son’s wedding.

This part of the parable speaks directly to us as Christians. When we’re born again, Jesus removes our sins from us and replaces them with a robe of His righteousness (Isaiah 61:10 and Revelation 19:8). Unfortunately, some people who claim to be Christians have never truly repented of their sins and been born again. Either they underestimate the seriousness of sin or they downplay the holiness of God. There are many such false converts who attend church alongside true believers, the tares among the wheat, and unless they experience true repentance before they die, Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23)

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