In Luke 14, we see Jesus dining in the home of a prominent Pharisee. At one point during the meal, Jesus instructed the host not to simply be hospitable to people who could pay him back with their own hospitality. Instead, he should invite people who couldn't repay: the poor, the disabled, the lame, and the blind. This way, Jesus informs him, he'd be paid back at the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:12–15).
Someone at the table overhears this and remarks, "Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God." And Jesus gives them this parable:
The parable of the great banquet
"Jesus replied: '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'" (Luke 14:15–24).
Examining the details
Jesus tells this story in response to the man's comment about those who will eat at the feast of the kingdom of God. His point is that the guest list for the kingdom will look a little different than these dinner guests imagine.
In the first century, someone throwing a feast would send out invitations for an RSVP. When the meal was ready, the host would send a servant around to collect the guests. It would be considered a great insult to turn the down the meal after it is prepared.
We don't want to attach too much significance to the reasons the guests give for not attending. Suffice it to say that, after telling the host they'd attend, they prioritized other tasks over meeting their obligation. This put the host in a predicament. What should be done with this banquet?
Instead of canceling the party, the host decides it would proceed. First, he sends his servant to go out and collect everyone around town who wouldn't have their own obligations. These are people who never get an invite to parties: the poor, the lame, the sick, etc.
After that, the master sends his servant out to invite people off the road. These travelers and sojourners may have had no intention of even stopping in this town, but now they're being encouraged to come for a luxurious meal.
What does it all mean?
The point that Jesus is trying to make is that the metaphorical banquet is ready, and He has come to Israel to bring her to it. Sadly, many are so preoccupied with their own understanding and expectations that they're unwilling to join Him. But that doesn't mean He's calling off the invitation!
He is now extending grace to those who have been shut out of the invitation. He's even going outside of Israel to Gentiles who weren't part of the initial request. This opportunity to enjoy a lavish meal with the Master will be lost for some—but it's being extended to others.
And at the end, Jesus makes a sharp rebuke to the Pharisees at the table, "I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet."
While this is a troubling passage for those who refused to attend, it's a celebration for many of us who've received an invitation to this lavish banquet in their stead!
Learn more from the parables
Jesus' parables communicate powerful truths in interesting and entertaining ways. If you’re interested in discovering more, check out "The Parables of Jesus."