Note: Read all of 14:1-24 in order to remind everyone of the context and what we covered last week on verses 1-14.
Introduction: I think the ESV Study Bible is correct when it says of this parable, “A great banquet refers to the arrival of the kingdom in the ministry of Jesus, with its initial present taste of the joyful fellowship with God that will be fully realized in the coming age” (BibleWorks).
This summarizes well precisely what this parable is about, namely God's invitation to fellowship with Him in His future heavenly banquet. This will become clear to us as we make our way through the passage and consider as we go both the immediate context here in Luke, as well as the larger context of Scripture.
NKJ Luke 14:15 Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
To the modern reader the exclamation by this unknown man may seem odd and a bit out of place, but it makes good sense in this context since the teaching Jesus has just given in verses 12-14 ends with a focus on the resurrection of the just, at which time they will receive a reward (vs.14).
So, we can see why the expectation of the eschatological banquet would have come to mind for this man and thus why he would speak of the future blessing of one “who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.” Indeed, such an expectation was common among the Jews based upon Old Testament prophecies. For Example:
NKJ Isaiah 25:6-9 And in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees. 7 And He will destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken. 9 And it will be said in that day: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”
Jesus agreed with such an expectation based upon such Old Testament passages, which might be why this unknown man made this statement in this context. At any rate, this man's statement provides the setting for the Parable of the Great Supper. And this helps us to understand the reason Jesus tells this parable. He is using the parable to teach about the eschatological feast in the future consummation of the kingdom of God.
NKJ Luke 14:16-17 Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, 17 and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, 'Come, for all things are now ready.'”
Here we are given several important facts that set the stage for understanding the parable.
First, we are told that a certain man gave “a great supper” (vs.16). This was no small affair, but was one that would have taken a lot of planning and effort, and it would have been a great honor to have attended. Even so, God has planned the eschatological banquet well in advance, and it will be the greatest honor one can imagine to be able to attend!
Second, we are told that the man “invited many” (vs. 16) and then at a later time sent a servant to announce that it was “ready” (vs. 17). This means that everyone who had been invited knew in advance that the great supper was coming, and they should have been ready to hear the announcement and to attend. Even so, God has announced His great banquet well in advance, and it is up to all those invited to be prepared when the time comes.
Third, we are told that “all things” are ready “now” (vs.17). This refers to the completeness of the preparation for the supper, which means that there can be no delay in attendance. Even so, God will prepare His banquet such that nothing He has promised will be lacking.
Given all of these facts, we can now understand why it was so shocking when those who were invited refused to come, but instead made excuses for their failure to attend. And this leads us to the next verse.
NKJ Luke 14:18 But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.”
Remember that this man knew in advance that the supper was coming, and he could have made time for it if it really mattered to him. After all, the field he bought wasn't going anywhere!
NKJ Luke 14:19 And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.”
Again, one wonders why this man couldn't have tested his newly purchased oxen on some other day.
NKJ Luke 14:20 Still another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”
This excuse makes a little more sense to me. Isn't it understandable that a man would want to spend time with his wife soon after he was married? But, then, one wonders if the man would have done other things that may have parted him from his wife for a time. Would his marriage have caused him to avoid all of his engagements or responsibilities? I strongly doubt it!
Notice that all of these excuses have to do with perfectly acceptable things. There is nothing wrong with going to examine a field one has bought, or with going to test some new oxen one has just purchased, or with wanting to spend time with one's new wife. The problem isn't that any of these activities is bad. The problem is with the priority these activities are given by these men with respect to the great supper that has been prepared for them. When told that the banquet is now ready, each of these three who were invited essentially told the host, “I've got better things to do.” Indeed, they insulted the host and valued his efforts on their behalf as worth less to them than these other things. This is especially so since each of these men had obviously already accepted the earlier invitation.
But the insult may be even greater than this, as the New Geneva Study Bible notes indicate:
The excuses are transparently dishonest. No one buys a field or oxen without prior inspection, and if anyone did there was no hurry – the field and the oxen would be there tomorrow. The man who had married might cite Deut. 24:5, but that freed a man from military service, not social contacts. (p. 1634)
It is hard not to think that in this parable the host represents God and that the servant who announces that the banquet is ready represents Jesus. Thus the excuses given are representative of the kinds of things that cause people to refuse God's heavenly invitation through Christ. The fact is that they care more for the things of this world than for the things of Heaven.
Yet the host didn't cancel the banquet just because those who were first invited refused to come, as the next verses make clear.
NKJ Luke 14:21 So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.”
One cannot miss here a repetition of part of verse 13, in which – as we saw last week – Jesus confronted the ruler of the Pharisees for not having invited “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” to their supper. You see, this Pharisee, like most Pharisees and religious elite among the Jews, viewed such people as having been judged by God. In fact, they despised them as those who were unable to observe the traditional laws of ritual purity. These people, then, were thought to be unworthy of the coming kingdom, and this may have been another reason why the man in verse 15 was moved to say, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” He may have been seeking to correct Jesus at this point, assuming that, since in his view such people as the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind were not worthy of the future kingdom banquet, then why should he – a ruler of those thought to be the most pious of Jews – have been troubled to invite them to his banquet.
In any case, Jesus is clearly making a point in this parable in response to the attitudes of the Jewish leaders in his day. And He is clearly confronting the fact that, although they had been refusing God's invitation, those they despised as unclean were not doing so! And they weren't making excuses either!
In fact, I think Steven Cole is onto something when he observes:
The striking thing is that everyone who accepted the invitation could have come up with seemingly legitimate excuses for not coming. The poor man could say, “I don’t have anything decent to wear to such a feast.” The crippled man could say, “I can’t get anyone to carry me there.” The blind could say, “I can’t see to find my way.” The lame could say, “It hurts me too much to walk on my bad leg.” Those along the highways and hedges, the street people, could say, “I haven’t had a bath in days and my clothes are dirty and ragged. I can’t come.” But they all accepted the offer because the servant convinced them that they were welcome and they clearly knew their own need; they were hungry. They believed the offer and they responded personally to it in spite of the potential excuses they each could have come up with. (How to Have Dinner With Jesus)
In other words, they understood the gracious nature of the invitation because they understood their own need and inadequacy. But the gracious nature of the man is even more evident in what Jesus says next.
NKJ Luke 14:22-23 22 And the servant said, “Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.” 23 Then the master said to the servant, “Go out into the highways [ὁδός, hodós] and hedges [φραγμός, phragmós], and compel [ἀναγκάζω, anagkázō] them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
I would like to pause to examine a couple of crucial things mentioned in these verses.
First, notice where the master told the servant to go to invite people.
1) The “highways” [ὁδός, hodós] – the Greek word used here refers in this context to the roads that people would take to travel throughout the countryside or on their way to other towns or countries, as opposed to the “streets and lanes of the city” mentioned in verse 21. This means that the servant is broadening the invitation to whatever kind of travelers he might find as he went out to the major thoroughfares. Such people would include, by the way, Gentiles as well as Jews. For example, those who might travel such roads in Palestine would include people such as Samaritans, Romans, or Greeks, not to mention other Gentile travelers who often passed through Palestine.
2) The “hedges” [φραγμός, phragmós] – the Greek word used here refers to a “fence” or a “hedge” that might separate fields, and used in the “plural, by metonymy, [refers to] hedgeside paths or country lanes, frequented by vagabonds and beggars” (Friberg Greek Lexicon #28246, BibleWorks). The Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament says that “poor travelers were accustomed to camping in the shelter of the hedges and fences” (p. 185).
So, seeing where the servant went to find these people also tells us something about the kind of people he was to invite. People found in such places would again be the types that many Jews would have regarded as unworthy for inclusion.
Second, notice how the master told the servant to invite people. He told the servant to “compel” [ἀναγκάζω, anagkázō] them to come in. The Greek word used here is a strong one that can refer to forcing one to do something or even to compelling someone to do something by violent means. Sadly, this has led some in the history of the Church to conclude that it was acceptable to use force in the attempt to convert people to Christianity. However, in this context, the word refers to a “friendly pressure” and means to “(strongly) urge” (Friberg Greek Lexicon #1518, BibleWorks). Or, as T. W. Manson says, this Greek word refers to “an insistent hospitality” (The Sayings of Jesus, p. 130, as cited by Thomas Constable, Notes on Luke, e-Sword). Or, even better, as indicated in Vincent's Word Studies, the Greek word used here actually means “not to use force, but to constrain them against the reluctance which such poor creatures would feel at accepting the invitation of a great lord” (e-Sword).
I think Vincent nails the intent in this context. The kind of people Jesus indicates will be invited are those who – in contrast to so many of the scribes and Pharisees – would not think themselves worthy to be included in this great kingdom banquet!
NKJ Luke 14:24 For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.
Here Jesus is stressing at least two points.
First, when He says that “none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper,” He is referring to those in the parable who had been invited and told in advance of the coming banquet, but who refused to come when the time for the banquet arrived. He is referring to those originally invited, for we know that many of those invited later did accept the invitation and thus would taste of the supper.
Jesus no doubt has in mind those Jewish elite who thought they were better than everyone else and didn't see that they were not worthy to come to the banquet either. These were the very same types warned by John the Baptist not to assume that they were accepted by God simply because they were Jews:
NKJ Matthew 3:5-10 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Second, Jesus refers to the eschatological banquet as “my supper.” It is hard to miss the way in which Jesus virtually becomes the master of the parable – who represents God – and their two voices become one in this verse. God's future banquet is Jesus' banquet. From our point of view, we know it as the coming Marriage Supper of the Lamb, about which John prophesies in the Book of Revelation:
NKJ Revelation 19:5-9 Then a voice came from the throne, saying, “Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!” 6 And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! 7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” 8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. 9 Then he said to me, “Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”
Conclusion: In conclusion, I think Hampton Keathley sums up the lesson of this parable nicely when he writes:
God graciously invites all to come to Him, but many are self-satisfied and preoccupied with their own lives and miss out on the invitation, and only those who are aware of their inadequacy will accept the invitation. (The Great Supper)
For those of us who already believe: We must always remember that God has invited us to that great supper by His grace and not because we are worthy. And He has called us to share the invitation with others in a spirit of humility.
For those who do not yet believe: You must recognize that God graciously offers you a future and a hope in Christ, who died for sinners like you and me, and who rose from the dead that we might have life and everlasting fellowship with God. Will you recognize your need and accept the invitation. It is being offered to you today!