Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner: Thoughts on the Parable of the Great Banquet

This morning we approach the parable of the Great Banquet.  This is a continuation of the same event that we studied last week.  To refresh your memory, it is the sabbath and Jesus has been invited to the home of a ruler of the Pharisees.  While there, he starts off with what is to them is a scandalous action: recall that he heals a man and then challenges them on whether or not such a healing is among the works that should be counted as a violation of God’s sabbath (as opposed to their customs).  Then, after exposing their hypocrisy, he proceeds to instruct them in true humility.

Prologue: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner…

Here we pick up in Luke 14:12-14 12He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Does this injunction sound familiar?  What I want you to see as we go through these texts is the continuity of not only Jesus’ teaching throughout his ministry, but the continuity of the scriptures as a whole.  As you read your bible, I want you to be conscious of the themes that recur throughout.

This passage certainly echoes Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount as both Luke and Matthew recount.

Luke 6:32-3632 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Matthew 5:46-4746 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

There are 2 lessons here which bear some consideration.  The first lesson is on the surface and easy to discern and teaches us what charitable love we are to have towards our neighbor; that is, how we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The second lesson refers back to the first of those two great commandments, how we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  This, I believe, will require a little more explanation.

But first, one of the attendees at dinner speaks up…

The Awkward Comment

Luke 14:15 – 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!”

Perhaps he was trying to change the subject?  It’s entirely possible that he was moved with the truth of Jesus’ teaching – the scriptures don’t give us any insight into his motives – but perhaps he thought, “ok, this bit about loving the unclean is going a little bit too far.  Let’s go in another direction.”

Carpe Diem, or אם לא עכשיו, אימתי

Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.

Jesus seizes upon this comment to further his teaching by instructing the guests about who they are who would be in the Kingdom of God and who would have the opportunity to feast with Him.

I can imagine Jesus editorializing, “You have spoken well, even if it is at surface value.  Indeed those who eat bread in the kingdom of God are blessed.  However, there seems to be some confusion about who will be in this kingdom and how they came to be there.”

And here he uses a parable to clear up this confusion.  And as usual, this clarity wasn’t exactly what the Pharisees wanted to hear…

I hope this reminds you of Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:1-4:

1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Jesus’ boldness is a challenge to us to seize opportunities to instruct others about the things of God.  Were we there, would we be bold enough to push the cracked door of a spiritual comment wide open and walk through, boldly witnessing of Christ?  Or do we divert the conversation to the weather or to football or other superficial topics?

Paul tells us in Romans 10:14-15:

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

So let’s break down this parable.

Jesus dines with Simon the Pharisee.

There are actually 2 account of this story from the Gospels.  There is Luke’s version which we are reading here and another version by Matthew found in chapter 22:1-14.  There are some distinctives between the two, enough so that some scholars regard them as separate incidents.  

However, since they are essentially teaching the same point, I prefer John Calvin’s approach in his commentary on the synoptic gospels that he regards them as different tellings of essentially the same event.  It is entirely probable that Jesus used this parable on multiple occasions.  I want to address a couple of the distinctions and go into some detail on them because the Matthew account tends to raise some confusing questions among Christians.

I’d like to start of our journey through parables looking at the Cast of Characters.  Let’s read about who they are:

Luke 14:16-2416 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.'”

In Luke’s account, they are as follows:

  • The Master of the house
  • His Servant
  • The Invited Guests
  • The Outsiders

In Matthew’s account, we have the identical group of characters, with the addition of a man without a wedding garment.  But we’ll talk about him in a little while.  First, let’s break this down…

The Invitation

The man, the Master of the House, invited many to a great banquet This parable, as will become clear if it is not already, is an allegory.  The Master of the House is God and the invitation to the great banquet is a call to dine in the Kingdom of God.  

That many were invited should make us recollect the promise to Abram in Genesis 12:1-31 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And again in Genesis 17:4-84 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

You will also remember God’s promise to Jacob in Genesis 28:13-14 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

The invited guests, you see, are the people of Israel.  Israel was uniquely set apart by God, and throughout redemptive history until the time of Christ, the prophets had been calling the nation to God.  But Israel rejected the call.

The Response

Let’s observe the neglect:

There’s a big picture here and then some meat to chew on.  The big picture is that the guests refused to come and preferred their worldly pursuits to the banquet of the master.  The invited guests don’t flat out refuse and say no.  Instead they make excuses.  And, of course, this begs the question, “How often do we make excuses when we should attend to the things of God?”

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

Let take a moment to observe the specific excuses:

There were two businessmen here; the purchasers of Land & Oxen, entirely good things in an of themselves.  However, when our hearts are full of the things of the world, our ears are deaf to Christ.

“It is a hard matter so to manage our worldly affairs that they may not divert us from spiritual pursuits; and this ought to be our great care.”― Matthew Henry

One had married a wife and used that as an excuse, as if marrying made him unable to go to the feast.  He pretends inability to go when actually he just didn’t want to go.  

This is a reminder that the neglect of the gospel invitation is a moral issue.  (I have said you can’t argue someone into the kingdom of God through logic when they have simply made up their mind not to believe!).  We create excuses all the time to justify our neglect of the gospel and attempt to justify those excuses as if we couldn’t help it.  And indeed, I’m as guilty of this as anyone!

It is also often the case that our desire to please others causes us to neglect the exercises of religion.  We can’t be people pleasers and God pleasers at the same time.

The Judgement

What was the judgement pronounced?

v24, “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”

This sounds ominously like God’s words to Moses – words the Jews would have been very familiar with – in Numbers after the people refused to go up to the promised land of Canaan.  The story is eerily familiar.  God invites his people up to a land “filled with milk and honey” which he has clearly stated that he has given them.  Yet the people reject the blessing of God and sought to return to Egypt.

Number 20-23 Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. 21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.

And so the house of Israel continued to reject God up through the very day Christ spoke this parable. And in response, what does the Master of the House do?

The Second Invitation

Luke 14:21 – 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.’

So the 2nd invitation goes to the poor, cripples, blind and lame.  Who are these people?  The quick and easy answer is to say that these are the Gentiles, but I believe that the answer is slightly more nuanced.  Jesus himself, upon giving his disciples the Great Commission began in Jerusalem and Judea and then extended the invitation to the ends of the world.  We see a similar unfolding of the gospel invitation here

If that’s the case, how are we to understand the poor, crippled, blind and lame from the streets and lanes of the city?

These are the remnant among the Jews that do respond to God’s good invitation.  While the religious leaders rejected Jesus, there were still the Nicodemus’ and the Arimiteans and the Magdalene’s who responded to the invitation.  Recall that in Acts 2, over 3,000 Jews became Christians in response to Peter’s sermon!

But God’s banquet hall is a very large one…

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.

These are, of course, the Gentiles, those who are outside of the covenantal city of Zion, among the highways and hedges, to whom the doors of the banquet hall are likewise opened wide and are bidden to come in.  

Not only has Jesus just told the religious elite that they’ve been cut off from the banquet and that those whom they might look down upon are invited, he also says that even the Gentiles will have preference over them in banquet feast of the Master.  Probably not what you want to do at a dinner party if you’re trying to win friends and influence people!  But Jesus was about winning souls and never hesitated to cut right to the heart of the matter.

Paul dives deeper into this teaching in Romans 11 where he speaks of the true branch of the vine being cut off and a wild branch (i.e. Gentiles) grafted in.

Romans 10:17-24 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Note both the warnings and the promise here!  As to this invitation, when, historically, did this happen?  Recall the Acts, Chapter 10 when God gives Peter the vision of the unclean animals in anticipation of Cornelius’ visit to him.

What I want you to see here is the continuity of God’s commands throughout redemptive history as laid out for us in scripture.  These commands and are not mysteries or secrets and the sinful hearts of man have not changed much over time.  The lessons are clearly there for those of us with eyes to see.  Jesus did not teach in abstractions and theories.  He illustrated greater truths in these parables.  We can certainly apply lessons from the parables to a wide variety of circumstances, but we should not miss the core teachings which are rooted in time and history.

What I also want you to see here is God’s heart toward saving sinners.  The master says to his servants, “…Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”  The picture here is not one of God looking to keep people out save for those few righteous who are good enough.  No, rather it is the picture of a generous God who desires that all would come to him as they are… poor, crippled, blind and lame and how he aggressively pursues them into his kingdom.

Earlier I mentioned that we can conceive of this text as illustrating the 2 greatest commandments.  In this we see those who willfully neglect to love the Lord God by forsaking the offer of fellowship with him contrasted with those undeserving souls who respond to the invitation to dine with the Master.  How do we demonstrate our love to God?  We do so when the things of the world are not so important to us that they hinder our responding to his call.

The Epilogue

This is a clear teaching with multiple layers of meaning the deeper we look.  But this is not particularly difficult.  However, in Matthew’s telling if this – or a similar – incident, there is the perplexing epilogue about the Man Without the Wedding Garment.

Let’s read Matthew’s account:

Matthew 22:11-14 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

At first glance, this strikes us as being quite harsh, as though the crime doesn’t fit the punishment.  This begs the question, “So, what’s the big deal about not having a wedding garment?” Besides that, if this guy is one of those poor, crippled, blind or lame people, can they not be excused for not having the means to buy themselves a wedding garment?  And then we scurry off to the internet or to a bible dictionary if we happen to have one and try to figure out what’s so significant about wedding garments in biblical times anyway.

But if we keep the allegory of the preceding parable in mind we are enabled to clearly see through the fog to exactly what Christ is teaching.  If we take the poor, crippled, blind and lame to be us who are invited into fellowship with God, the master of the house, then must we not be clothed with the righteousness of Christ?  And is that clothing not granted to us by the Master of Himself?

Isaiah 64:6 tells us that even our supposed righteous deeds are like filthy rags before a holy God.

Isaiah 64:66 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is so much biblical imagery of putting on special garments indicating one’s position in relation to God and his covenant kingdom.  From Genesis 3 where God clothed Adam and Eve with skins to the Old Testament priestly garments (Ex. 40:12-14) to the R-Rated graphic picture of God redeeming Israel and Judah in Ezekiel 16:6-14 to the vivid picture of “the wedding garment” in Zechariah 3:

Zechariah 3:1-51Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” 3Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. 4And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” 5And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.

In the New Testament, this righteousness we are clothed with is Christ’s righteousness.

Colossians 3:5-11 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Ephesians 4:20-24 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Revelation 3:17-18  17For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

As John Calvin says, when the general call goes out to all peoples to respond to the gospel, “many unholy and abominable persons creep in, who, though for a time they are admitted along with others, yet, when God reviews the guests, will be thrown out and dragged to punishment.

So we are to take the wedding garment to mean the righteousness of Christ

Further, observe that that the man without the wedding garment isn’t found out until the king comes to see the guests.  It is for the king, that is, Christ, to know who are his and who are not.  It’s not our place to judge one another insofar as our relationship with God is concerned.  We should rightly hold one another accountable and submit to the authority of the church, however it is God who judges the heart.

Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Again, Calvin says, “It is not, therefore, the declaration of Christ, that the sentence of casting them into outer darkness will be executed on wretched men who did not bring a costly garment taken from their own wardrobe, but on those who shall be found in their pollution when God shall come to make a scrutiny of his guests.”  

This is not an unfair singling out of someone who didn’t know what the dress protocol of the banquet is and unintentionally, or through lack of resources, didn’t have a garment.  This is a warning to those who are invited by the gospel to partake of God’s kingdom blessings but who masquerade as Christians, but are far from God in their hearts.

Again, Calvin: “…For the words of Christ mean nothing more than this, that the external profession of faith is not a sufficient proof that God will acknowledge as his people all who appear to have accepted of his invitation.”

Questions to consider:

    1. Jesus seized on an opportunity to teach at dinner.  How can I be more bold and effective in this way?
    2. What are some ways I make excuses to avoid attending to the things of God?  What are the things that are more important to me than fellowship with God?
    3. What does Paul mean in Romans 10:21 when he says, “For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you?”
    4. How do we encourage accountability and holiness in others without being judgemental?

 

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