The Parable of the Great Supper
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!”
16 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.’
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.’ 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.’ 20 Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’
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.’
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 and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”
Authentic Invitation, Free Response, Escalating Compulsion
Prior to and aside from the horrific notion that God pre-selects some to eternal life and others to everlasting damnation, historic Christianity held high God’s desire that everyone is invited and that all would freely respond to his grace.
And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:7)
God’s invitation is authentically universal (“whoever desires”) and wholly uncoerced (“take freely”).
With that firmly in mind, what are we to make of the Parable of the Great Banquet, where Jesus describes an escalating use of pressure in the invitation?
- Group 1 – At first, the Man/Master (God) INVITES “many” to his banquet—he announces that “all things are now ready.” But the RSVPs are not coming in as hoped. Jesus labels these responses “excuses.” They are meant to sound absurd. Who takes out a mortgage on a property sight unseen or buys five oxen before test-driving them? And who gets married but doesn’t think the invitation includes their spouse as the “plus-one” to bring along? Jesus wants us to know this first group are not merely busy—their polite excuses communicate real rejection.
- Group 2 – The second invitation is not to the general “many,” but to a second group: “the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind.” It sound like more than an invitation. There’s a greater urgency—“Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city.” And the Servant (singular, for God the Father is sending Christ himself) is to BRING Why is that? First, notice that these are impoverished people with disabilities who need someone to bring them. Willingness isn’t the issue—mobility is. And from where? Why are the poor and disabled in the streets and lanes? In the context of his culture, Jesus clues us in—these are likely lower-caste, infirmed beggars. In any case, something more than an invitation is required. Even if they willingly respond, they still need someone—a care-giver or Good Samaritan if you will—to pick them up and bring them in.
- Group 3 – But even then, some place settings remain vacant. The Master tells the servant to go out further—beyond the lanes and city streets to the highways and hedges. But it’s more than geographic. The implication is that the Servant should go further out into the margins of society. The preachers and commentators of yesteryear saw in this third campaign a call to the “sinners”—those who never got invitations because they were excluded by sin—society’s dregs, the perverted and the treacherous. The social untouchables that the Gospels exemplified by “tax collectors and prostitutes.” And these, the Master says, must be COMPELLED.