Vol. 3, No. 6
This parable also is peculiar to Luke. The parable in Matthew 22:1-14, though similar, is different from the parable of the Great Supper.
The Royal Marriage Feast was spoken at an early date in our Lord's ministry; The Great Supper, at the end of His ministry during the Passion Week. The former was addressed to the multitude in the Temple; the latter to the guests in a private house. The former displays messengers treated with violence; the latter shows them receiving excuses. In the former, the invited are destroyed and their city burned; in the latter, despisers of the invitation are merely excluded.1
The background preceding the parable of the Great Supper begins in Luke 14:1. Verse one prepares the setting as it reveals that Jesus was guest of a "chief pharisee" among several others who also were invited. This meal and the subsequent speeches by our Lord, inclusive of the parable now under review, occurred on "the sabbath day."
Verses 2-6 concern an event that may have been staged to entrap Jesus. An unlikely attendee to this gathering, a man afflicted with what Scripture notes as "dropsy," was conspicuously before Jesus. Intently, the host and other guests watched him, perhaps supposing that Jesus faced a dilemma. Our Lord directly addressed the potential predicament:
"And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things" (Luke 14:2-6).
In verse 7, Jesus observed the manner in which diners selected their seats. We would say of such a spectacle that guests were jockeying for prestigious place settings at or noticeably close to the head table. Upon seeing this, our Lord recited the parable of the Chief Seats (Luke 14:8-11). Jesus taught humility and lectured his fellow guests regarding their errant behavior.
Next, Jesus addressed his host. Our Lord criticized him for only inviting those who were able and desirous of likewise inviting him to share their hospitality (Luke 14:12-14). Basically, Jesus accused the host and his friends of running a ". . . mutual admiration society."2 Rather, the riches with which we may be blessed enable us as stewards of God to demonstrate hospitality toward those in need. "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Heb. 13:2).
"Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:12-14).
Doubtless, both the other guests and the host were greatly displeased when they heard these two denunciations of their deportment. Perhaps in an attempt to lessen the tension of the moment, one guest interjected a comment. "And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God" (Luke 14:15).
This interjection by a fellow Jew and guest promoted the widely held misconception of the Jews regarding the future kingdom of God. As a people, the Jews overlooked in the Old Testament prophecies about the Lord's kingdom allowance for the inclusion of non-Jews (e.g., Gen. 12:3; Isa. 2:2; 62:2; Joel 2:28-3:2). They thought that their ancestral relationship with Abraham -- by physical birth -- would guarantee them (and them alone) inclusion in the kingdom of heaven. John the Baptist warned the Pharisees and Sadducees regarding this malignant thought: "And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham" (Matt. 3:9; Luke 3:8).
Essentially, the outspoken one changed the subject through a reference to an event more important than the gathering at hand. Borrowing the figure from the meal he was then attending, the man sought to move the evening along from those tense moments. It is as if he were saying: "The only thing that really matters is the future kingdom of heaven, in which all Jews will be included anyway." Through the parable of the Great Supper (continuing the same figure), Jesus proceeded to dispel the erroneous notion verbalized by his self-appointed apologist. ". . . Christ laid bare in the pungent story of the great banquet, the folly of the Pharisaic attitude toward the Kingdom of God."3
"Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So that servant came, and showed his lord these things. 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 hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper" (Luke 14:16-24).
Verses 16-17 portray the readiness of "a great supper." Guests were invited previously, and it is implied accepted the initial invitation. Now at last the meal is ready and the invited guests need merely to be apprised that it is time to "Come."
First, in keeping with Oriental customs, a general announcement was sent out to inform everybody of the coming event. The date was specified, but the exact hour was not. On the stated day, when all the preparations had been made and everything was in order, the man sent out his servant to tell his invited friends that the hour had arrived for the supper.4
The man in the parable who made a great supper represents God who invites mortals into the eternal bliss of heaven with him. The making ready corresponds to the great and lengthy preparation God made for the reception of humanity. This preparation occurred prior to the coming of Christ. The great supper is equivalent to the blessings of the Gospel -- namely, eternal salvation. The invitation to the great supper is associated with the expansive and generous Divine, spiritual invitation -- the Gospel itself. The servant who announced the readiness of the dinner represents Jesus Christ. Those bidden were the Jews who were the special object of God's benevolence throughout Judaism. The message that "all things are now ready" corresponds to "the fulness of time" (Gal. 4:4; Titus 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:20). Further, the not mentioned but implied bearers of the earlier, initial invitation portray the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, the apostles and the seventy.
In verses 18-20 the unthinkable happened. Did you ever invite someone for supper on an agreed upon date and time, go to the trouble and expense of preparing the meal, and then, with no notice, your guests just do not arrive? If so, you know some of the exasperation depicted in this parable.
The guests were really insulting Him, for in Middle Eastern countries, to turn down an invitation was a serious thing. It could even lead to war if the rejected invitation came from a leader.5
Further, the invited guests in the parable of the Great Supper were blameworthy for ". . . neglect of their given word, -- for we must suppose that they had already accepted the invitation . . ."6
The excuses offered were just that: excuses. They amounted to thinly veiled exclamations of: "I don't want to come!"
All three excuses were pretexts. With a little forethought, each person could have made arrangements that would have enabled him to go. But the real truth was, they did not want to go.7
The ones making the excuses probably did not conspire with each other, but merely exhibited the same careless regard for the host and his prepared meal. "Not all consulted together -- but all . . . had the same sentiments."8 Additionally, the three excuses recorded in the parable are representative, not exhaustive, of the types of excuses that doubtless would be entertained then or now. Besides, three excuses could hardly be thought representative of the number of invited guests to a great supper.
The first type of excuse offered was the dubious assertion that one intended guest had made a real estate transaction, and that he needed to examine it now. This excuse readily reveals one of two things: (1) The man is a poor liar, or (2) He is extremely gullible if not outright senseless. The second excuse was no more believable than the first excuse. Who buys farm animals without first determining their fitness? Whereas the first two excuses were robed in apologies, the third excuse was more blunt. ". . . I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come" (Luke 14:20).
Any man who buys a piece of property before he looks at is a fool, and so is the man who purchases 10 oxen without first proving them (that would be like buying a car you never drove). The man who was newly married could have brought his bride with him. These people did not reject the invitation because they were involved in bad activities. . . . Most of the people who reject God's gracious invitation today are not involved in gross iniquities. They are just too involved in the everyday affairs of life and too busy to think seriously about what they are doing.9
. . . one is very unwsie to buy a field without first seeing it. . . . The oxen were now his. He could try them at any time. . . . The wife was now his and she would keep.10
These excuses are remarkably similar to excuses one might be heard today making to avoid some occasion to which he is obligated. The things with which the ones in the parable busied themselves and used as excuses were not sinful things. It is clear that secular and family responsibilities which rightfully have their places in our lives can interfere with other commitments. The most important commitments about which we need to be concerned and need to insulate from interruption are our spiritual responsibilities. In other words, seek the kingdom of God first or foremost rather than the sundry things of life (Luke 12:22-32). We must not even love our families more than our Lord (Luke 14:26; Matt. 10:37).
However, we, like the characters in this parable, are often the most enamored with things that pertain to our mundane existence on this physical sphere called earth.
The three excuses may be divided into two classes: the first two have to do with earthly possessions and the third concerns earthly ties.11
But the three excuses are species of the thorns that grow up and choke the Word. . . . all three express the same satisfied immersion in worldly interests . . . Multitudes today are invited to the gospel feast, but respond in the same way to the invitation as those Jesus described almost two millenniums ago.12
We respond best regarding the tangible and whatever we can grasp in our hands. We are beings that major in the five senses. The intangible and spiritual matters are areas in which mortals appear to experience greater difficulty. Doubtless, this is so because we are obviously physical creatures, living in a physical world. The laws of nature that govern this world are sometimes painfully apparent to every accountable person. Learning spiritual laws requires more skill and persistence.
There is a correlation, though, between the physical world and the spiritual world in which we also live. The things or relationships enjoyed on earth affect our spiritual health, too. It is woefully alarming to note that circumstances that are innocent of themselves can contribute to our spiritual deficiencies. Especially of note in the parable: ". . . none of the guests are kept away by occupations in themselves sinful . . ."13 "It is a paradox that something as lovely and sweet as home can stand between a man and his God."14
. . . things which are good and legitimate can cost us our soul. . . . Need to carefully take to heart the lesson that Legitimate Business and Lawful and Pure affections may be road-blocks on heaven's highway and can cost us our soul.15
. . . the things they presented as excuses were proper in themselves, when kept in their own place. . . . How tragic it is when affairs mercantile, agricultural, financial, clerical, or industrial leave us no time for God! . . . But marital union and family obligation, if rightfully and righteously undertaken, never keep us from God or from fellowship with His saints.16
Verses 21-23 chronicle the anger of the host and his ensuing plan to yet provide diners for his great supper, now waiting. Some people delude themselves by thinking that the God of love (1 John 4:8, 16) is not also a God of anger (Exod. 4:14; Num. 25:4; Mark 3:5) or wrath (Rom. 1:18; 12:19; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6). Likewise, the God of heaven sought replacement guests to replace those who in the figure of the parable of the Great Supper made excuses. The intended guests who made excuses not to come to the supper represent the majority of the Jews in Christ's ministry who rejected him. The excuses offered throughout time may vary somewhat from these excuses, however, they are no more satisfactory with which to meet God in eternity. "Sinners, who persistently and blatantly continue to reject the overtures of divine mercy, will tremble too late when they find themselves in the hands of an angry God."17
The servant was sent to obtain guests from among the people passing by in the streets. "Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind" (Luke 14:21). Room still remaining, the servant was sent again, not to merely invite, but to compel still others to attend the great supper (Luke 14:22-23). One writer observed regarding these two acquisitions of guests:
The maimed, blind, etc. denote the publicans, harlots (Mt. 21:31). The guests who were compelled to come in from the "highways and hedges" represent the Gentiles.18
Another writer made an interesting observation regarding the word "compel."
Compel them to come in. . . . moral compulsion. . . . these houseless wanderers would think themselves so unworthy of it as not to believe it, and could scarcely be induced without much persuasion to enter the rich man's dwelling, and share in his entertainment.19
Since the host represents God, we should be comforted to realize that all people are welcome in the kingdom of heaven. There are none whose sins are such that they cannot be forgiven upon their repentance and obedience to the Gospel of Christ. "God is an international God; He made provisions for Jew and Gentile."20
Nobody is left out of God's gracious invitation. . . . Only the Lord welcomes people nobody else wants.21
The apostle Paul penned, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16).
The parable of the Great Supper concluded with the formal exclusion of the original guests who had excluded themselves. "For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper" (Luke 14:24). Of course, the same scenario will be unfolded before God in final judgment. By their failure to accept the invitation of God on his terms, those who will be eternally lost will have already excluded themselves from the grace and mercy of God. At the judgment, these will hear their formal exclusion from eternal heaven pronounced.
Those who made excuses were not permitted to eat of the supper. Lk. 14:24. 3. Those today who make excuses for not obeying the gospel will not enter heaven.22
Exclusion from the Great Supper represents exclusion for the kingdom of heaven, thereby assigning those excluded to the only other eternal disposition -- a devil's hell. "He calls the spiritually sick and needy, while those who are rich in their own merits exclude themselves and are excluded by Him."23
The majority of Jews contemporary with Jesus of Nazareth through the present have spurned the Christ -- the fulfillment of the very prophecies in which they placed hope for Israel. "'None'[in Luke 14:24] is a synecdoche (whole put for the part) showing that the Jewish rejection of Christ would be substantial (cf. Rom. 11:25)."24 Romans 11:12-32 records the misfortune of unbelief by the Jews and the consequent good fortune of belief by the Gentiles. Now, all people, Jews and non-Jews have equal opportunity to accept the divine invitation.
"This further parable, suggested by the meal at the Pharisee's house, is termed great because of the many invited and also because of the greatness of the One symbolized by the lord providing the supper."25
The parable was contemporary in that it pictured the current Jewish rejection of Him; it was prophetic in revealing the acceptance of Gentiles into the kingdom.26
The parable is tragic because it depicts the sorry lot of mankind unprepared and often unwilling to accept God's invitation to spend forever with him in eternal bliss. It is frightening to ponder that even the bountiful blessings of which we have been recipients from a benevolent God may interfere with our spiritual journey upward. Of the first invited guests we close with this note: "They had nothing which it was not lawful to have, but the undue love of earthly possessions ultimately excluded them from the feast."27
1 Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 275.
2 Warren W. Wiersbe, Windows on the Parables, Wheaton, Scripture Press, 92.
3 Lockyer, 375.
4 Neil R. Lightfoot, The Parables of Jesus, Vol. 2, Abilene, ACU Press, 9.
5 Wiersbe, 96.
6 R.C. Trench, Notes on the Parables of Our Lord, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 128.
7 Lockyer, 276.
8 William S. Cline, "The Great Supper," The Parables of Our Savior, Indianapolis, Garfield Heights church of Christ, 128.
9 Wiersbe, 95-96.
10 W. Gaddys Roy, Sermon Outlines on the Parables of Jesus, Anniston, AL, W. Gaddys Roy, 56-57.
11 Lightfoot, II, 12.
12 Lockyer, 277.
13 Trench, 128.
14 Lightfoot, II, 13.
15 Cline, 129.
16 Lockyer, 276-277.
17 Ibid., 278.
18 Wayne Jackson, The Parables in Profile, Stockton , CA, Wayne Jackson, 39.
19 Trench, 130.
20 Jackson, 40.
21 Wiersbe, 95-97.
22 Roy, 58.
23 Trench, 129.
24 Jackson, 39.
25 Lockyer, 275.
26 Jackson, 38.
27 Trench, 129.
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