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Exploring and applying the parables © Parva Press
Luke Chapter 14 verses 1-24, English Standard Version*
One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honour, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
He 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 neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
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!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 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.’ 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.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 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.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 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. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
*The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
The Parables of the Wedding Feast and the Great Banquet © Parva Press
May I invite you to look at the setting, the content, the challenge to Lord’s hearers and to us, and finally at other relevant scriptures and gospel insights.
First, the context or setting
There is a similar parable to the parable of the great banquet in chapter 22 of Matthew’s gospel, where the scene is of a king giving a marriage feast for his son. The thrust of the two parables is the same; the great danger of contempt for the one who gives the invitation and the terrible loss if it is refused or ignored. Yet the setting and details are so very different that it seems best to regard them as the distinct telling of a comparable parable, told on quite separate occasions.
Matthew is recording Jesus’ response to a challenge by the chief priests and elders of the people in the temple in Jerusalem. He does so by telling a whole series of very serious parables, enabling them, if they would, to see the terrible mistake they were making. This took place in the final days of our Lord’s ministry. In Luke’s Gospel, the setting is much earlier in his ministry, at a dinner party; so the whole setting in Luke is ‘table talk’ rather than the formal defence of his words and actions.
The Lord Jesus had been invited to eat at a Pharisee’s house and he accepted. It is worth noting that the Lord was willing to spend time speaking with those who were hostile to him, as well as keeping the more comfortable company of his own disciples and those who genuinely welcomed him such as the poor and needy. There are several other occasions when we read that he was invited to eat in a Pharisee’s house. He did not hesitate to do so, even though the reception was usually, as it was on this occasion, very testing and hostile.
Immediately, this is a challenge to us not to wrap ourselves exclusively in ’Christian cotton wool’; keep company only with fellow believers, but to be willing to go wherever we can be ambassadors for the Lord God . . . but to do so warily! Why warily? Do note that little comment, ‘they were watching him carefully’ or, ‘and they watched him’. Was it a friendly glance? Not at all! They had invited him and were assembled to trip him up and trap him and watch carefully what he would do when put in a tricky situation . . . and us? The servant is not above his master, and I for one have been caught many a time!
They placed a man before the Lord with dropsy; literally a man ‘full of water’. He was in the last stages of a terrible illness involving liver, heart and kidney failure. The day they had chosen to put him before the Lord was the Sabbath. Would he break their traditional law and heal a man in such dire straits on the Sabbath? There was no Law of Moses against doing so. Moses did not presume to legislate when God could act! But, over the years, the scribes and Pharisees had done so. It was against their elaborate Sabbath codes of practice . . . unless the person would be dead by the next day. So, a chapter earlier we read of a Synagogue leader saying, ’There are six days for work; come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’
However, as the Lord pointed out, the Pharisees themselves were well able to lay aside their own code of practice . . . should keeping it threaten their own wallet or family life! For example, should their own son, donkey or ox fall into a pit or well on the Sabbath they would not hesitate to ‘break the law’ and organise a rescue operation.
So he swept their petty rules aside, clearly demonstrating that what really matters is loving and serving the Lord God and really caring about those around us. In our own day, we too need to beware of little man-made rules and conventions that stop us freely living for God. We must never let convention prevent true godliness of living.
The parable of the wedding feast
As the guests arrived for this meal, our Lord noted how they aimed for the seats that would give them the greatest recognition and honour among their companions, or the greatest opportunity to gain the ear of someone who was in a position to do them a favour. It was as if they were all trying to obtain a seat on the top table of a modern wedding reception!
The warning against such self-centred grasping came from the lips of ‘One greater than Solomon’, but the principle had been spelled out in Solomon’s proverbs centuries earlier, ’Better to be told, “come up here” than to be put lower in the presence of the prince.’
However, this is exactly how the religious leaders were consistently behaving. They hungered for ‘the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market place.’ And this is how the world operates in our own day, we see it, for example, among politicians as they ‘jockey for position’ and constantly attempt to ‘upstage’ one another.
What can we learn from the Lord’s parable? Surely it is that, for the man of God, there is no need to do that. God our heavenly Father is the Master of the Feast. Micah teaches us that we are simply required ‘to walk humbly’, with the Lord God. And Peter urges his readers to ‘humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you’. At a simple level, that means there is no need to be pushing and shoving and grasping and grabbing. At a higher level it means that, a seat on the board, leadership or chairmanship is better not achieved by underhand means; by out-witting or out-manoeuvring others but by consistent, godly integrity of the kind displayed by both Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament, each of whom rose, under the hand of God, to be prime minister. Perhaps this humility before God is even more strikingly displayed by the future king David, who even when he had opportunity to be rid of murderous Saul, refused to kill him. This kind of humility before the Lord does not kill godly ambition to be the most useful we can be before him, but it does bring great peace and contentment if it is clearly the Lord God who put us in a high position or chose not to do so. He is the Master of the Feast.
Keeping an eye on heaven; living in God’s world for God
Who should be invited to dine? The man with dropsy was, clearly, not an invited guest. He was just ‘of use’ and so – having served his purpose of being a ‘test case’ concerning healing on the Sabbath – he left the meal; was sent on his way. The rich man of another of our Lord’s parables, ‘who dined sumptuously every day’, simply didn’t notice the poor man, Lazarus, at his gate. He was just part of the street scene. In the same way, the scribes and Pharisees threw dinner parties for one another but, in the main, despised and totally ignored the needy.
Can we not, so easily, do the same – hold endless dinner parties for friends and family, work colleagues and valuable contacts? We are not called to neglect them, but just not to forget, for example, those who live alone or the student whose home is far away and who cannot possibly invite us back or repay us in any way. We are called to invite them out of love for God and love for our neighbour, the Lord knows. Our homes and dining tables are a trust from the Lord to be used for his glory. And look, there really is heaven to be gained and treasure before God, too. Here is reference to the resurrection; the life to come, ‘For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’ Hallelujah! Can you imagine anything more greatly to be treasured than our Lord’s words, ‘Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord’? The challenge to the true disciple is to keep the Lord God and the life hereafter constantly in view.
The Parables of the Wedding Feast and the Great Banquet, continued
A ‘heavenly thought’ but a terrible assumption
Now we turn to the parable of the banquet itself, but, first, do notice how it came to be told. A guest at the meal, perhaps to deflect the uncomfortable personal challenge of the Lord’s words and maybe to impress his fellow guests, uttered a pious-sounding but sentimental statement. ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ . . . Of course, ultimately, this is a wonderful truth; none are more to be envied than those who have a God-given place in the kingdom of heaven . . . and so we might expect Jesus to commend him and offer an equally ‘heavenly-minded’ reply. Did he? No he did not! He challenged the underlying assumption. For naturally the speaker assumed that he and his esteemed fellow diners would be there – but would they?
Jesus’ response was to tell the parable of the great banquet. As the custom was, the guests were invited some time in advance then a second invitation was given when all was prepared. The guests were greatly honoured to be given an invitation to such a banquet. They were reminded when all was ready – but they did not come; ‘they all alike began to make excuses’.
The first excused himself as he had just bought a field and so, by implication, made it plain that the pursuit of his future wealth was more important to him than honouring the host and taking his place at the banquet. The second excused himself by saying that he had just bought five pairs of oxen and needed to examine them to make sure they were sound beasts. Here is the day by day pursuit of regular business. He considered that far more important to him than taking his place of honour at the great banquet. And finally, the third had just married a wife and so, of course, must be excused. There is provision in the Law of Moses for a newly married man to be free of his duty to serve in the army for a year, so as to happily spend time with the wife he has taken. However, could such a provision be reasonably stretched to excuse this man, at the last minute, from the short time it would take to attend such an important banquet? It was clearly right for him to honour his wife and fulfil a whole variety of domestic duties, but to use them to excuse himself from the banquet was to show contempt for the giver of the feast and his invitation.
These men were each honoured with an invitation. They were each reminded. But, out of utter contempt for the one who gave the feast and his invitation, they none of them came. No wonder they called down the anger and judgement of the master of the feast; ‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’
How tellingly this applied to the Hebrew people and particularly to their religious leaders, some of whom were gathered round this table. They had been invited by the prophets to watch with expectancy for the coming of God’s salvation; to watch for the appearing of the promised Messiah. They were invited again by that herald of God, John the Baptist who, most plainly, witnessed to the Lord Jesus, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ and . . . ‘this is the Son of God’. But they would have none of it. ‘He came to his own people,’ writes the apostle John, ‘but his own people would not receive him . . .’ Note the words of our parable, ‘None of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet’. What a terrible judgement when we stop to reflect that the Lord Jesus was speaking of the kingdom of heaven.
But are the Lord God’s purposes frustrated by the contempt of men?
To continue with the quotation from the apostle John, ‘But . . .’ what a glorious word that is in this verse! . . . ‘But to those who received him, who believed on his name, he gave the power to become the children of God.’ The invitation was offered first to God’s chosen people and their leaders, but on their contemptuous rejection of it, pictured here in this parable . . . the master of the feast says, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’
The religious leaders of God’s Israel rejected their glory, God’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus. However, the ordinary people, the poor, heard him gladly. The tax-gatherers and sinners drew near him. Those in deep trouble flocked to him. The Lord God’s feast will be filled!
But still there was room. ‘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.”’
After the stoning of Stephen, ongoing persecution scattered the Jewish believers from Jerusalem. As they were forced to leave they carried the gospel invitation wherever they went. Philip brought it to the Samaritans and then shared it with the official from Ethiopia. Peter was called to speak to the household of Cornelius and the Lord God brought about a clear and miraculous sign; the whole household was filled with the Holy Spirit and began praising God. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were astounded, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles; those they regarded us ‘no people;’ nothing, worthless . . . mere ‘hedge-dwellers’.
Barnabas, too, witnessed a wonderful work of God as he was sent to follow-up God’s invitation that had been shared with Greeks in Antioch. Some time later, as they were moved by the Spirit of God, the church at Antioch set apart Paul and Barnabas, and later Paul and Silus, to publish this same gracious, gospel invitation throughout the Gentile world.
Paul made it their first priority to bring the invitation to the people of God’s Israel scattered throughout the Roman Empire. But in Acts 13 we read of Paul and Barnabas being reviled by the Jewish leaders of a city, also called Antioch, which was in Pisidia. Paul said to them, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life . . . we turn to the Gentiles.’
What was the result? It was just as Jesus warned those present at the Pharisee’s table, none of the contemptuous, invited guests would taste the banquet – but those from the highways and hedges would gladly take their place. Jesus had earlier given a very plain warning to the religious leaders; ‘There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out. And men will come from east and west and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.’ Matthew records Jesus delivering a terrible warning to the whole nation. Jesus warns them that because of its rejection by them, ‘the kingdom will be taken away and given to a nation producing the fruits of it’.
God’s chosen, Hebrew people stubbornly excusing themselves while ‘non-people’, mere Gentiles, accept the invitation and crowd in . . . right down to us. What a privilege! What a wonderfully merciful heavenly Father to invite us! Here we are, men and women and young people from the nations, who have no particular value before God; non-people, mere hedge-dwellers. And yet, through no merit or deserving of our own, chosen and gathered at the express invitation of God.
Gathered by the servants of God, we find ourselves, like the early Ephesian Christians before us, chosen and adopted as the sons and daughters of God, redeemed by the precious blood of the Son of God, called to live daily to the praise of his glory and destined to be with him forever. We, mere hedge-dwellers and outsiders, find ourselves, by the grace of God, destined to be seated at the greatest of all banquets; the banquet the apostle John describes as ‘the Marriage Supper of the Lamb’.
The Parables of the Wedding Feast and the Great Banquet, concluded
An incredible invitation – but not to be taken for granted
But look, this parable also needs to be seen today as a very solemn wake-up call to the formerly Christian nations of the West. With our headlong pursuit of secularism, are we not repeating the terrible error made by the Jewish religious leaders in our Lord’s day? Will we, like the religious leaders gathered round that table, ignore and treat with contempt the fact that we have been so singularly favoured of God over these last five centuries. Our history shows us the fruit of godliness; integrity of business, a whole society built on trust, an education system and a legal system that have been the envy of the world.
Will we in our generation turn our back on both God and his gracious invitation? Will we be contemptuous of the things of God, thrusting aside true godly belief and practice from government and public life, from education and medicine, from our constitution, laws and home life? Can we expect to see the Lord God’s continued hand of protection and favour on us? To our great loss and their great gain, should we not rather expect to see the kingdom of God taken from us and given to ‘another nation showing the fruits of it’?
Or again, will we, chapel and church-going people, assume and presume like the Pharisee in the parable? Recognising ‘the blessedness of heaven’, will we assume that, because we wear our Sunday best and are found among God’s people, of course we will dine with the saints in heaven? The terrifying truth is that, like so many of the Pharisees in our Lord’s day, many formal church and chapel folk will find themselves not tasting the Lord God’s banquet. Here is a call to examine our own hearts before God.
The Pharisees were very religious men aiming to keep every detail of the law and they were particularly careful to keep the Sabbath. For ourselves, it is so easy to keep a Sunday morning as a ‘very religious’ hour for God. But then for the rest of the day and the rest of the week, in practice, if not in theory, excuse ourselves, like the men in the parable, and actually be totally absorbed in securing our future wealth, or be immersed in the busy-ness of this world, or be just completely taken up with domestic duties . . . to our very great loss.
Unlike the Pharisees, will we receive the Lord Jesus? Will we acknowledge who he truly is; God’s chosen one the Messiah, the ‘saviour who is Christ the Lord’. Will we accept what he came to do, and live a life gladly serving him? Despite, and in and through, all the demands and pressures of life, will we make our Lord’s priorities ours? Will we make sure we are there at the banquet’? Will we ‘seek first the kingdom of heaven’?
Something very practical
Clearly, the Lord’s aim was to challenge the pious but unfounded assumption of the guest. However, as we come to look at the parable today, there is one further implication for ‘hedge-dwellers’ who have been ‘brought to the banquet’.
Although it forms no part of the parable, once we have cried to the Lord God for mercy, bowed the knee to his Son, the Lord Jesus, and by grace have been ‘ransomed, healed restored, forgiven’ – before we take our seat at the great banquet, we have a task to fulfil. We are called, indeed commissioned, to join the ranks of those who are his willing servants in sharing the task of inviting others to the feast. It is our task to invite, assure of their welcome, plead and exhort our fellow hedge-dwellers to accept the great invitation. It is a call to encourage our friends, colleagues and neighbours to accept this invitation and then do our very best to accompany them on the journey to the banqueting hall. Until on the last day, together, we take our place, a personally named and reserved place, at that greatest of all banquets; ‘the marriage supper of the Lamb’.
‘Compel them to come in? There is a ‘holy compulsion’ which, clearly, is of God. The apostle Paul experienced that on the road to Damascus and many of God’s most eminent saints have known it through the running centuries, but it is absolutely not for man to ‘compel’. In genuine revival for example, God in his sovereignty uses mere preachers – sometimes men as ‘ignorant and unlearned’ as the rulers and elders thought the apostles Peter and John to be – and men and women find themselves compelled to cry out to God for mercy and are brought into the kingdom of heaven from the ‘highways and hedges’. But such happenings are clearly a work of God’s Holy Spirit – and not because of man’s compulsion. I delight in the balance Luke gives us in the Acts of the Apostles as he describes Paul ‘arguing, debating, persuading, entreating’ and even ‘in Christ’s name beseeching’ and then, on his return to Antioch, reporting to the church ‘what God had done’. Paul had put in tremendous personal effort and suffered greatly in doing so, and yet the founding of the churches in, for example Philippi and Thessalonica, was clearly a wonderful work of God.
Forced conversions, for example conversions on pain of death, are a great misunderstanding and a very dark blot on the history of the Christian church – and compulsory conversions to other religions are a terrible scar on the history, even the current history, of the world of our own day.
It is our task, with gentleness, respect and courtesy, to give a reason for the hope that is in us. It is our task to share and invite and speak, as the Lord gives us opportunity, but not to use underhand methods let alone force.
In conclusion, three things for modern Christians to ponder and take away from this parable and its setting.
Firstly, the great danger of presuming, as the religious leader at the feast did, that because we are associated with church or chapel we are destined for heaven. As George Whitfield was constantly reminding his hearers, for that, ‘You must be born again’. Our relationship with the living God and his Son must not be merely formal and resting on our membership of a church but must be personal, humble, deeply grateful, real and vibrant.
Secondly, God’s purposes are not frustrated. If we in the secular West turn our back on the Lord God – who has so blessed and prospered us in these last centuries as we shaped our laws and society according to his holy ways – we can only expect his good hand to be withdrawn, his protection taken away and ultimate disaster. In the meantime the ‘hedge dwellers’ of Africa and Asia and some parts of the Middle East will flock in and gratefully take our place.
Thirdly, if you have truly been compelled by the Holy Spirit of God to come to his banquet, before that final great day arrives, pray, as our Lord urges us to, ‘to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers’. Pray to the Lord of the banquet to send out his servants in our day and personally join those servants of God as, together, we urge and encourage others to the gospel feast; to take the place graciously offered them at God’s great banquet.
Lord God, may we heed the words and warnings of this parable. We thank you for it. Glorify your name among us, please. Amen
Questions for discussion and personal reflection
- Can you think of instances where people were ‘watching’ you to test the reality and consistency of your faith? Have you experienced tests and traps set like the one described here?
- Do we have social or church conventions, ‘ways of doing things’ or ‘codes of practice’ that stop us speaking or living with a clear conscience before God?
- Do you find it necessary to be constantly exalting and promoting yourself or can you afford to live humbly before Almighty God?
- Is it part of your thinking to include those who are alone, or in difficulty or who cannot possibly repay you any kindness shown to them?
- How easy is it to be so totally immersed in this world’s matters as to be blinded to God and his Son and his ways?
- How grateful should we, non-Jewish people be that God, the Lord of the Banquet, has graciously extended his invitation to us?
- What part can we humbly play to encourage God’s ancient people, the successors of those to whom the invitation was originally given, to turn and to look again at God’s gracious invitation in his Son?
- What do you know of ‘God’s holy compelling’ in your own spiritual pilgrimage?
- From this parable, do we have grounds for concern for our western ‘religious’ but hardly vibrant Christian churches?
- Do we also have grounds for concern for our increasingly god-less society with its steady turning of its back on godly laws and godly ways?
The apostle Paul speaks of the Gentiles being ‘grafted in’, this parable speaks of them being ‘drafted in’!
Parable of marriage feast of the king’s son, Matthew 22:2-14
Watch or trap him, Luke 7:36; 11:37 20:20; Mark 3:2 where it is clearly stated that it was to trap him.
Healing, but not on the Sabbath, Luke 13:14
One greater than Solomon, Luke 11:31
Come up higher, Proverbs 25:6, 7
The best seat, Luke 11:43
Walk humbly, Micah 6:8
Humble yourselves, 1 Pet. 5:5, 6
Joseph, Genesis 39-41,
David and Saul, 1 Samuel 24 and 26:6-25
Who dined sumptuously every day, Luke 16:19
The disciples scattered – Philip in Samaria and with the Ethiopian, Acts 8 &9, Peter at Cornelius’ house, Acts 10, Barnabas at Antioch, Paul in Pisidia, Acts 13:46
Jesus’ warnings, ‘weep and gnash your teeth,’ Luke 13:29, ‘kingdom taken away,’ Matthew 21:43
Ephesian Christians, adopted, redeemed . . . Ephesians 1:1-14
The marriage supper of the Lamb, Revelation 19:9
Well done good and faithful servant, Matthew 25:23
Provision for a newly married man, Deuteronomy 24:5
John the Baptist’s witness to Jesus, John 1:29-34
He came to his own people but . . . , John 1:11-13
Saviour who is Christ the Lord, Luke 2:11
Seek first the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 6:33
Ignorant and unlearned, Acts 4:13
Paul on his return to Antioch, ‘all that God had done’, Acts 14:27
Pray to the Lord of the harvest, Luke 10:2
Fullness of joy, Psalm 16:11