Earlier this week the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host studied Jesus’ parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:15-24) guided by The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s questionnaire for beginning groups.
LK 14:15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
LK 14:16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, `Come, for everything is now ready.’
LK 14:18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, `I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
LK 14:19 “Another said, `I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
LK 14:20 “Still another said, `I just got married, so I can’t come.’
LK 14:21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, `Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
LK 14:22 ” `Sir,’ the servant said, `what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
LK 14:23 “Then the master told his servant, `Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ” (NIV; all Biblical quotations are from the NIV)
The questionnaire, which I’d distributed the previous week, was divided into two parts, Looking into the Scriptures and My Own Story. We shared our answers. For most of the questions we differed widely on which of the suggested answers we chose. Moreover for many of the questions one or more of us couldn’t choose between two of the suggested answers. Thus we had a particularly interesting discussion.
Looking into the Scriptures
This section contained these six multiple choice questions:
1. How do you feel when someone declines your invitation to dinner? – We divided between “no problem” and “wonder what the real reason was.”
2. To what is the “great banquet” referring? – We divided between “the kingdom of God” and “the marriage banquet at the return of Jesus.” See below.
3. Why did the three people who were originally invited refuse to come? – We divided between “too busy with other things,” “not interested in being with God,” and “unaware of what they were missing.” See below.
4. “Go out quickly into the streets and the alleys…bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” Who are these people? – Most of us had “outcasts of society.” See below.
5. “I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.” Why? – We divided between “chose not to receive God’s grace” and “rejected Jesus as the Messiah.”
6. If God invited you to a banquet as his special guest (to spend time together), what would you do? – We divided between “wonder what God was up to” and “jump at the chance.”
My Own Story
This section contained these four multiple choice questions:
1. How would you describe your spiritual diet right now? – Our most popular choice was “gourmet feast.”
2. What can you expect at God’s banquet? – Our most popular choice was “all my needs will be met.”
3. When it comes to experiencing God’s spiritual feast, what will help you enjoy it more? – Our most popular choice was “assurance that I can eat whenever I’m hungry.”
4. What would it take to get you to come to the banquet of God’s deeper things? – We divided between “an adjustment in my schedule” and “a little more spiritual hunger.”
The diversity in our choice of answers is illustrated by my choosing the answer (or one of the answers) most popular with the rest of the group in only question 4. I had to choose “a little more spiritual hunger” because I’d chosen “spiritual hunger” in question 3.
When I said “See below” in reporting on our discussion of questions 2, 3, and 4 of Looking into the Scriptures above, I was referring to the following:
In our discussion of question 2 in Looking into the Scriptures, we observed that Jesus told the parable in response to someone’s saying, “Blessed is the man who will sit at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15). The person was referring to the eschatological feast that Jesus describes in Luke 13: 28-29 and Matthew 8:11 as taking place with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see also Isaiah 25:6). Thus it’s quite possible that the parable is referring to that feast as well, which many identify with the “wedding supper of the Lamb” of Revelation 19:9. However the parable could be referring more generally to “the kingdom of God.” For example, Matthew Henry explains “in the kingdom of God” as:
“(1.) In the kingdom of grace in the kingdom of the Messiah, which was expected now shortly to be set up. Christ promised his disciples that they should eat and drink with him in his kingdom. They that partake of the Lord’s supper eat bread in the kingdom of God. (2) In the kingdom of glory, at the resurrection. The happiness of heaven is an everlasting feast; blessed are they that shall sit down at that table, whence they shall rise no more.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, Vol. V, page 733)
In our discussion of question 3 in Looking into the Scripture, we observed that the servant referred to in verse 17 was just letting those previously invited to the banquet know that the banquet was ready. They had apparently accepted the initial invitation to the banquet despite knowing that they were going to buy a field, buy oxen, or get married. Thus their replies to the second invitation were just “excuses” and may seem foolish to us. However George Arthur Buttrick asks: “Are these excuses more foolish than ours? ‘I got too much religion when I was a boy’ … ‘I am too tired when Sunday comes’ … ‘There are too many hypocrites in church’” (The Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville, Tennessee: Abington Press, 1952, volume VIII, page 256).
In our discussion of question 4 in Looking into the Scriptures, I justified the inclusion of “Gentiles outside of the covenant” as a possible answer by observing that some commentators identify those who were originally invited as the Jews and those who were invited later as the Gentiles. One recent commentator, Darrell L. Bock, even claims that this “is the crux of the parable,” explaining:
“The original invitees represent Israel. Although the nation as the originally invited is not responding, the time for the arrival of the kingdom had come, and the initial celebration of its blessings will go ahead. Others previously thought excluded from the celebration will get invitations. These people represent the spread of God’s blessings beyond the bounds of the needy of Israel. In all likelihood, the inclusion of Gentiles is alluded to here (Isa. 49:6). Israel, though first in line, is missing her present chance to sit at the table. The first have indeed become last.” (The NIV Application Commentary: Luke, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996, page 395)
However another recent commentator, Joel B. Green, rejects this view. After noting that some identify those invited later as the marginalized among the Jews (the “poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” found in the town’s streets and alleys) and the Gentiles (those found in the roads and country lanes outside the town), he claims:
“One looks in vain within the Lukan narrative or beyond for instances wherein these proximities (in or outside town) are used to distinguish Jews and Gentiles, however. Luke seems not to be interested in specifying the precise nature of the socio-religious divisions at work here.” (The Gospel of Luke, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997, page 561
Whatever, the parable clearly brings out that all are invited to attend the great banquet and that only those who accept the invitation will get to attend it.