The Parable of the Great Feast

The Parable of the Great Feast

Thoughts on the parable of the Great Feast – Please read Luke 14:15-24.

THE CONTEXT. a. Jesus is reclining at a supper hosted by a Pharisee. As usual, they are grumbling, putting Jesus under their microscope. They didn’t like it when he healed a man right there at supper, on the Sabbath! And they didn’t like it when Jesus gave them some basic table manners, and challenged them to change their guest list the next time they had a supper. He told them to invite the outcasts.

b. One of the diners next to Jesus said a beautiful thing, a beatitude: How happy is the one who eats a meal in the Kingdom of God! A wonderful sentiment. This man is like every other Jew, well aware of the Messianic Banquet prophesied in Isaiah 25. This Banquet will be for all people at the end of time, and patriarchs are on the guest list! All the faithful Jews were expecting this at some point in the future, during the Messianic Age, in the fullness of time.

c. Jesus responds to this pious, inspired diner by telling them this parable of the Great Feast.

d. I think this story has two different levels of meaning: First, this was a parable of exposure, to the heart of God and his son Jesus, to what his ministry looks like, to what his Kingdom, now and not yet, looks like. Second, this is a parable of warning, referring to the Messianic Banquet, that many in Israel were in spiritual danger of not making it to the Feast, because many Jews were not accepting Jesus, making excuses to the host of the Banquet, the Messiah himself.

THE PARABLE. An exposure to the heart of Jesus. When Jesus plans a party, we might be in for a few surprises. We’ll eventually be serving appetizers to scandalous outsiders and sexual offenders. We’ll be filling the water glasses of Roman sympathizers and religious half-breeds. We’ll be passing the salt to unclean lepers, political troublemakers, and sneaky thieves. We’ll be offering dessert to way-faring strangers who have no way to invite you back. We’ll be pouring coffee to a wonderful diversity of people, listening to a symphony of languages, and gazing upon a human rainbow of skin colors. And our serving table better be handicap accessible, because Jesus will go to every group home in town and hand out personal invitations to everyone who has a disability. With Jesus, the outcasts become the in-crowd. All those who live in the margins will find themselves smack in the middle of mercy and conviviality.

Forgetting his questionable guest list for a minute, think about his unlikely guests of honor as revealed in his many experiences and stories. He wouldn’t hesitate to have dinner in Jericho with a compromising scoundrel who would cheat his own people. He’d want to celebrate with a lowly shepherd after finding his lost sheep. Or a humble woman who finally found her long-lost coin. Perhaps most surprising of all, he would have no problem hosting a village feast to honor a runaway son who just squandered his whole inheritance. The bigger the screw-up, the better the feast. The more humble the person, the more extravagant the party. Jesus was one big welcome mat, intentionally inviting all the undeserving into his life of love and joy and forgiveness. With Jesus, open house is 24/7.

To underscore his grace, Jesus tells this parable of the Great Feast. The story is about a certain man who wanted to throw a big banquet. He sent out invitations to his friends, which were then accepted. On the day of the feast the meat is grilled, the food is prepared, the pillows are fluffed, and the guests receive their confirming invitations. As they are seated around the table, the host encourages all to begin the feast. But all of a sudden, the guests surprisingly offer weak excuses and then walk out the door, one by one. One guest mutters that he just bought some farmland and he wants to go have his first look. Another says he bought a yoke of oxen and wants to see if they actually work together as a team. A third whispers he was just married and wants to spend some time with his bride. It’s reasonable at this point to suspect that the landowner probably got a good look at the land before he bought it, that the farmer most likely observed the oxen before he had bought them, and the newlywed has already had his honeymoon. All their excuses were insulting, dishonest, hurtful, and unacceptable. So these friends, familiar with the host, in the end rejected his invitation to be a part of his life, his world. It actually looks like these so-called friends in Jesus’ story wanted to shut down the party as they rejected the host.

As the story continues, the host of the banquet was understandably miffed. My life of love is an open book, spits out the host, and they slammed the book shut! They could have had everything, including my friendship, he says, and they turned their backs! So the angry host decides on making a second guest list, right on the spot. He sends out invitations to precisely those who are never invited to anything, no less a huge feast like this one.

So through the door come the residents of the rescue mission and the local nursing home, then come the students from the school for the blind, and then those in creaky wheelchairs and aluminum walkers. The rejected host is now accepted as he opens the door wide to all who have been rejected or put on the margins, just like him. The host turns his anger into grace. But wait, the story isn’t finished. He finds that there’s still plenty of room for more, and he wants a full house! So he sends out even more invitations, this time asking complete strangers, the immigrants and the aliens, the homeless travelers, the far-flung foreigners, who probably need to be convinced that, yes, they really are invited to the feast. Soon enough the house is full and everyone is seated and the party can begin. Jesus says that his Kingdom looks like that, and we respond with, May your Kingdom come! Jesus is the life of the party, his heart is as big as the world, and his banquet hall always has room for more.

THE PARABLE. A warning of spiritual danger. Through the story of the Great Feast, Jesus gives fair warning to the religious leaders of Israel. All faithful Jews were well aware of the future messianic banquet, and so the audience would have easily understood the setting and the main characters of this little drama. The original guests were the leaders of Israel, rightfully invited first to the kingdom of Messiah. The lame and the poor of the city were the outcasts within the house of Israel. The travelers on the highway outside the city were the gentiles, outside the house of Israel.

THE ORIGINAL GUESTS. They were the religious leaders among the Jews, and of course they were invited first. But Jesus didn’t look like the Messiah they were expecting. He broke the law on the Sabbath. He claimed to fulfill the law and prophets. He eats with sinners, with the ritually impure. He didn’t fit their picture of Messiah. So they don’t accept him, and they run the risk of missing out on the Kingdom, on the final Banquet. They offer many poor excuses, but none of those excuses are acceptable. Jesus wants them to accept him into their life, but they choose to close themselves off from the banquet of salvation.

THE EVENTUAL GUESTS. The rejected, the poor, the disabled, the gentiles, all accept the invitation of the host Jesus. They welcome the chance to be with the host and enjoy his Feast. Jesus no doubt has everyone thinking about Isaiah 49:6, when God’s salvation is to reach to the ends of the earth. God’s grace invites the unworthy, and that fact is unacceptable to the religious leaders.

JESUS. He wants a full house. There’s always room for more at the table. His grace knows no boundaries. The only ones not present at the banquet are those who rejected the invitation, self-imposed exiles. In the very last verse, Jesus calls this feast “my banquet.” He is claiming to be the Messiah Host, and he’s handing out invitations to the feast of salvation, anticipating the Heavenly Banquet in the future upon his return.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  1. Now and Not Yet. The Kingdom begins now, with Jesus. Salvation has come. He wants table fellowship now through His Spirit. The final fulfillment of the Messianic Banquet will occur when he returns to take his believers to heaven. In the meantime, his followers have the opportunity to continue his table fellowship through Communion, the Eucharist, in which the Lord is indeed the Host. The Lord’s Supper is the foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet. And it’s important we recognize our fellow partygoers. Let us offer no excuses as we continue to rub shoulders with God’s Kingdom people.
  2. This is the Messianic Banquet expected by all Jews. As William Salmond says, “The supper is a figure of the rich grace which was to come to people by Christ.”  Grace, being what it is, and Jesus, being who he is, offers this richest of fare to the undeserving. “Yahweh Sabaoth (Lord of Hosts) is preparing a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines, of succulent food, of well-strained (matured) wines.” (Isaiah 25:6, New Jerusalem Version).
  3. This is the Messianic word that the Lord will reach a wide variety of people, to the ends of the earth, starting with the people of Israel. “It is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I shall make you a light to the nations so that my salvation may reach the remotest parts of earth.” (Isaiah 49:6, New Jerusalem Version). Surely His banquet of salvation and grace will extend to the outsiders and marginalized, from the highways and back roads of the world, both Jew and Gentile.
  4. The Great Feast will include the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the outlier, the alien, and those from different cultures who also want to follow the Messiah. Every people group imaginable will be welcomed. This is what the Great Feast will look like: “After that I saw that there was a huge number, impossible for anyone to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language. They were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb…” (Rev. 7:9, NJB). Jesus has issued invitations to the ends of the earth! What a glorious time that will be.

GOING FURTHER

  1. Who do you tend to invite to your parties?
  2. How do you react if you get insulting or unacceptable rejections to your party invitations?
  3. The religious leaders not only rejected Jesus, but they wanted everyone else to reject him too. Did it seem, in the parable, as if the first guests offering poor excuses wanted to shut down the party?
  4. Jesus was the host with the most, the life of the party, opening the doors and welcoming everyone near and far. He wants everyone to enjoy the feast. Does this fit with your image of Jesus?
  5. Jesus anticipates the Heavenly Banquet by welcoming all to the Feast of Salvation now, by extending his gracious invitations all over the place, so all can get a foretaste of the Messianic Feast. How can we enjoy the expected Feast right now?
  6. This is what the Feast, the foretaste of heaven, can look like at the practical level. We were a part of a church in Detroit that specialized in offering great feasts like in the parable. The church would often rent a bus, take it to Cass Corridor, a very troubled and difficult area in Detroit inner city, and proceed to fill the bus with whomever they found on the street, every variety of person and situation imaginable. The full bus would then return to the church where there was a huge meal waiting, as well as a gospel presentation. A great time was had by all, and relationships were begun. Would you consider suggesting this type of mission activity to your church leadership?
  7. When your church holds a Communion service, is there this type of diversity? Why not?

Resources: Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; Kenneth Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes; Henry Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible; Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus.

One Reply to “The Parable of the Great Feast”

  1. Hallelujah! These recurrent images of Feasts throughout Scripture keep reminding me of the Great Party we’re headed to. This is the party where my dear Naomi, who had to sit in the back of the bus, will certainly be seated at the head table with Jesus.
    Thanks, Steve
    This is my favorite entry so far.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *