At a meal in a Pharisee's house, Jesus told the challenging parable about the banquet. This was part of the Jewish expectations but Jesus encourages humility and hospitality.
At a meal in a Pharisee's house, Jesus told the challenging parable about the banquet. This was part of the Jewish expectations but Jesus encourages humility and hospitality.
Hello and welcome to Series 9. This is Episode 2, and it's entitled ‘The Parable of The Great Banquet’, although there's other material in this episode. It all links together and the parable itself is the second half of the passage that we are studying today. We're studying in Luke 14 and we're going to be studying verses 1 - 24. We're going to study it in different sections.
Introduction and Recap
For those of you who've followed Series 8, you'll know where we are in the life of Jesus. He's well and truly on the road to Jerusalem. He has left Galilee, where he spent three years, approximately, of his ministry which is very extensively described in the earlier chapters of the Gospels. That was the main ministry of Jesus in the north of the country - his home province - and he based himself in the little fishing port of Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee, not very far away from his home town of Nazareth. In Series 8, that's all behind him; that's all history. In fact, Jesus will at this point never return to Galilee.
Luke, in particular, gives us lots of material in this period and that's supplemented with material from John, who indicates that Jesus made a couple of private visits to religious festivals in Jerusalem during this time, but they're to be distinguished from Jesus' plan to make a very big public entry into Jerusalem at the end of his ministry. That's where this whole story is heading. Jesus is anticipating that this will lead to a final confrontation with the religious authorities, will lead to his execution, his death and his resurrection. He's warned his disciples very clearly in the Gospels. We have three decisive predictions that he's already given of what's going to happen when he gets to Jerusalem. The disciples are very confused and uncertain, even hostile to this idea. We know the direction of the story and Luke makes the structure of the story particularly clear, to help us understand what is happening. Jesus is travelling around from place to place and in our last episode, for example, in Luke 13: 22, Luke describes the fact that Jesus went through the towns and villages teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. That's a very vivid description of what's happening at this time. Many of these towns and villages he'd never been to before because he didn't live in the area - in Samaria in the middle of the country, or in Judea in the south. He lived in the north. He was going to all sorts of different places, sending his disciples out in pairs, to preach in other places that he couldn't get to, and that's described in Luke 10, when Jesus sends out seventy two disciples in pairs to preach and teach in the places that he wanted covered in the country.
This momentum, this interest - lots of people are seeing Jesus for the first time who've never seen him before, because he's come to their particular district for the first time. We've already noted that opposition is building up, and opposition to him appears in almost every single episode in this particular area of the text. This is a higher level of opposition than he experienced in Galilee and it's led by the religious leaders - the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law, representing the formal legal judicial council called the Sanhedrin, that ruled over Jewish religion under the overall political leadership of the Romans. This is the story we are in, and Jesus is encouraging people really urgently to take the opportunity to believe in his Messiahship, to trust him, to have faith in him and turn away from wrong attitudes towards him. People are wanting to do that but the religious authorities are trying to prevent them, by publicly criticising him, challenging him and disagreeing with him. This is a major factor when Jesus makes private visits to Jerusalem, as we see from John's Gospel, where on both occasions in the two episodes that John describes, between John 7 and John 10 - two visits to Jerusalem - on both occasions, Jesus nearly gets stoned to death. They pick up stones to throw at him. It's a complicated and challenging situation.
Sabbath Day Laws
That's the context in which we find Jesus on one Sabbath day in an interesting context. Let's turn to Luke 14.
“ One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched”.Luke 14:1, NIV
That sounds rather sinister to start with doesn't it. It's on the Sabbath and there had been many controversies about the Jewish Sabbath day - the particular Jewish holy day which is now celebrated on a Saturday by modern Jews - because they didn't like Jesus's religious activities, particularly his healing taking place on the Sabbath. That gives you the context - the suspicion; there's difficulty. The Pharisees are watching him. They're also reporting back to their leaders in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, and others. They're explaining to them exactly what is happening with Jesus as he is travelling around.
It's interesting that this was a prominent Pharisee, quite senior in that group of highly motivated religious leaders. Maybe he was even a member of the Sanhedrin, if he was that prominent. We don't exactly know but what we do know, is that Jesus was being carefully watched. Let's read on. Luke 14: 2 - 6
“There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’ 4But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. 5Then he asked them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?’ 6And they had nothing to say.”Luke 14:2-6, NIV
You can see how tense that situation is. This is the context, as I've explained in earlier episodes when the Sabbath has come up, but let's say it again so we're quite clear in case you haven't heard those earlier episodes. In the 10 Commandments, in the Law of Moses in Exodus 20, repeated Deuteronomy 5, the fourth commandment is very clear. It calls on the Jewish people to rest on the seventh, or Sabbath day. This is the foundational command that is being disputed at this particular point and is disputed frequently in the life of Jesus, between Jesus and his opponents, There were other commands in the Law of Moses that define what can and can't be done on the Sabbath. The purpose of it is to worship God, to rest from your work, to provide rest for people who are economically weaker in society so they're not pushed on like slaves without any rest, and also for the family benefits and for the community. The question is, what constitutes work on the Sabbath? That's what the Jews couldn't agree on - this basic criterion of the Law of Moses. People, like the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law, as described here, created literally hundreds of extra regulations which were not in God's word. They were not in the Old Testament, were not in the Law of Moses but they were widely practised in Jewish society. One of the key issues is the question: should healing take place on the Sabbath? Notice, when Jesus asked them the question, they didn't answer. Then, he conducts the healing and he asks them another question which they don't answer. They're very keen not to be caught out by Jesus' highly intelligent questioning because we all know the answer to the question that he asked in verse 5: If a child, or an animal, falls down a well on the Sabbath day, you're not going to leave it in the well - it'll die; it'll suffer. In an emergency, where there is need for mercy and help, the standard understanding of the law of the Sabbath was you could go and help. In an emergency, you could help; you could show mercy and compassion to people, or to animals, in need. This is the situation that Jesus discovered where there was a man with this abnormal swelling and probably this was the only time that he would meet Jesus. Jesus's mercy and compassion ensure that he healed him straight away and did not disqualify the healing simply because of the day of the week. He was being watched; he was being criticised; he was being reported on to the Jewish senior authorities in the Sanhedrin, in Jerusalem. It was a sinister situation but Jesus is not deterred. He's not intimidated. He then goes on and has a meal with this prominent Pharisee and with some of his friends, many of whom are Pharisees and Teachers of the Law.
Humility and Hospitality
Verses 7 - 14
‘When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them this parable. When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you, will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat’. Then, humiliated, you'll have to take the least important place. But when you're invited, take the lowest place so that when your host comes he'll say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place’. Then you'll be honoured in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves, will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Then Jesus said to the host, when you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, your rich neighbours. If you do, they may invite you back and so you'll be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you'll be blessed, although they cannot repay you. You'll be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’Luke 14:7-14, NIV
The social hierarchy in Israel was very strong and if you have a big meal, in a big reception in your home, the places around the table where people would sit, or recline were very important. There was a hierarchy; there's a hierarchy in the family where people sit and a hierarchy in the community. In the community, the Pharisees were more or less the top of the social ladder. They had their networks, and their friends, and it appears that this Pharisee gave the best places to other prominent people.
Jesus is teaching two points here. He's talking about humility and he's talking about hospitality. The humility of the person who comes into a social occasion and doesn't assume that he or she is going to be important, is something that Jesus commends. He says it is better to take a backseat, to take the humble place, to be at the back of the crowd, to take a lower seat at the table and be raised up. Social humility is being commended. The reason is that social humility indicates spiritual humility, which creates openness to the gospel. If you're humble in society, you're more likely to be humble in relationship to the greatest authority of all - God himself. That's the significance of that social humility. Jesus knew that the Pharisees were socially proud; they loved the places of honour; they loved to be greeted in the marketplaces; they loved the greetings on the street. Jesus says this in other places.
Jesus commends not only humility but also hospitality - opening your homes to those who have a need, rather than those who are going to affirm your importance and maintain the social hierarchy. Opening your homes to the needy - that is a true indication of loving your neighbour and that also indicates an openness to God. Being socially humble and being hospitable to the poor, are indicating factors that you're going to be open to the Gospel and to receiving Christ. That's why Jesus commends these and he is challenging the social attitudes of the Pharisees and their friends, who believed in hierarchy and loved being at the top of the hierarchy, and who liked to keep quite a distance between themselves and people less privileged - and especially the poor and destitute. This leads Jesus on to develop some of these themes further, in a much wider ranging parable, the parable of the great banquet, which is the theme we've taken for today.
Let's read that parable Luke 14: 15 - 24.
15When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” 16Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 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.’ 19“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can't come.’ 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.’ 22“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 23“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”Luke 14:15-24, NIV
The Feast in the Kingdom of God
You can see how this parable is carrying on some of the themes: the themes of hospitality, of humility, and openness to God that we were looking at in the earlier section. The Jewish expectation, in verse 15, is the starting point. The man who said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God’. We've come across this concept in earlier episodes. Jewish expectation was that in the next life - the afterlife, the eternal life - that God's Kingdom and his rule will be symbolised and characterised by feasting, by a large feast, with lots of people, lots of joy, lots of provision and lots of food. This is the concept of the messianic banquet in the messianic age, a very Jewish idea. We see it referred to a number of times by the prophets in the Old Testament. Let me give you an example, Isaiah 25: 6 - 8. This whole section in Isaiah, indeed this whole chapter, is a reference to the end times. Isaiah 25: 6,
‘6On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine - the best of meats and the finest of wines. 7On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from their faces; he will remove his people's disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.’Isaiah 25:6-8, NIV
This poetic prophetic language describes the Jewish expectation that God himself will come and reign on earth and that he will prepare a feast for ‘all peoples’, and all peoples means all nations. It will include, prominently, those Jews who have been faithful to the covenant and it will include people from all nations. Death will be swallowed up forever. That just gives you a flavour of some of the Old Testament background to this concept that is being captured here in the statement, by one of those at the table. Eating at the feast of the Kingdom of God. That is the basis of Jesus giving this amazing parable - a very challenging parable.
The Parable of the Great Banquet
The invitation comes to the Jews, verse 16 ‘A certain man is preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.’ In all the presentation of the gospel that Jesus speaks about, teaches, or enacts, the Jews are the first invitees, the first people invited. A certain man invites many guests. However, there are many excuses and in the story somebody's bought a field, someone's bought some oxen, someone's got married, and so the story goes on. People begin to make excuses - a really scandalous thing to do in the society of that time. Major feasts, and banquets, and social invitations were not to be missed, not to be turned down but here the people are turning down the opportunity to enter into this banquet. This banquet is a symbol of God's Kingdom, the messianic Kingdom, which I've just described to you. Jesus is clearly teaching here that those invited are going to say no, and particularly those Jewish invitees - the first invitees - are going to say no, with weak excuses. None of these excuses are really that strong. You're on the way to try out your oxen, well you can do that the next day. I've bought a field and must go and look at my field, you can do that the next day. I just got married, well so what, you can enjoy your marriage for a long time to come. Can you not give half a day to come to a feast? The excuses are weak but they're real. People say no, I don't want to attend. The master gets his servants to go and invite other people who weren't on the original invitation list - the poor, the outsiders; bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Go down the streets and the country roads and pick up anyone who is able to come.
The second invitation is to the outsiders. The wider invitation will bring far better response than the initial, narrower invitation. This is really quite a challenging story to tell to these people. Here are the elite of that area, sitting round a table in a social hierarchy, with well ordered places, with the poor and the marginalised nowhere to be seen. Gentiles nowhere to be seen. This is a social club and Jesus is invited to attend the social club led by a prominent Pharisee, someone who was well-known - probably wealthy and possibly even a member of the Jewish ruling council. Jesus tells this devastating story. He describes, not this man's dinner, but God's invitation to his feast in the Kingdom and says many of the people who've been invited initially are going to say no! Scandalous, incredible, that they should have.
Let's make some reflections, and think about the significance of what we're talking about here. I want to draw up some of the themes and some of the possible applications of the themes of this remarkable parable, and the remarkable run up to it, in that occasion of the dinner situation; the social occasion with a prominent Pharisee and his friends.
My first observation is that the conflict that is going to lead to Jesus' arrest, trial and death, is building up. The tension is almost felt as you read the text. I wonder whether you had that feeling as I read it out loud. Jesus is being carefully watched. They're watching everything he does. I wonder if you know that feeling. A lot of people in the world today live in countries which have limited freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of movement. Many people listening to this message, and this episode, will know what it means to be carefully watched in your country, or where you're living. Or maybe you're even a refugee in another country, and you're being watched for different reasons. Jesus was under that watchful eye of the Jewish religious authorities who are linked indirectly to the Roman state. We can get into the feeling of the text very easily if we know what it is for our actions to be watched. Sometimes we might live in a free society but we're being watched in another sense. We're being watched for the integrity of our Christian life. We're free to express it but people are there to see whether we are contradicting ourselves, whether we are living like hypocrites, or whether we are living the same message that we speak. There's a real challenge for you. Jesus has been carefully watched but no one ever found him to be a hypocrite, no one ever found him to have double standards, no one ever found him to have secret bank accounts, or secret relationships, or a power struggle going on to gain political power. None of this was remotely possible in Jesus' life. He was being carefully watched but no faults could be found.
My second reflection is concerning the Sabbath. The topic we looked at earlier on. It's a flash point of conflict between national religious tradition and the Christian faith as it emerges. That flashpoint keeps producing really tense moments in the gospel story, as Jesus particularly heals on the Sabbath. We've looked at a number of incidents across the Gospels, over several different series and the same sort of pattern happens. Jesus heals on the Sabbath and it provokes a backlash from those who say he shouldn't be doing that. Similar issues can exist today. True Christians, who can't fully participate in aspects of their national culture, or their national religion, or particular religious ceremonies, can find themselves criticised because they're doing things differently. There can be flashpoints around certain ceremonies, certain festivals, certain traditions, certain parts of civic life, certain parts of community life in towns and villages, and this may make some sense to you. If that's your living experience, for example - for example some tribal traditions in different parts of Africa that contradict Christian faith - some issues to do with witchcraft, for example, and the local witchdoctor - which we can't participate in as believers. There are flashpoints of conflict in every society and the Sabbath was one of those flashpoints for Jesus. Notice his pure integrity. He respected the institution but he didn't accept the human regulations. He wasn't willing to disobey what he knew God called him to do in that context.
Another reflection is to think again about the attitudes of humility that are mentioned early on, and hospitality, and particularly our attitude to the poor, to the outsider. It's one of the most distinctive features of Christianity. According to the lifestyle of Jesus, and the example of the Early Church is the openness to the marginalised in our community, the willingness to help practically, and a willingness to engage in terms of sharing our faith, and joining together in community with people who are marginalised, who are poor. The parable of the great banquet, tells us that in God's Kingdom many, many people who are saved will be those who are marginalised by the standards of this world. Some people have even said that many Christian revivals start with the poor people in the community. Historically speaking, there's a lot of evidence for that. God moves powerfully, very often amongst those who have least resources and least human security. Our attitude to those in need and in poverty, should be very openhearted, very inclusive, and very much filled with faith, respect for them as fellow humans, and faith that God can work in their lives.
My final comment is to turn to the book of Revelation 19, and to read to you just four verses. Revelation 19 describes the final moments of this world order just before Jesus comes again. It describes in a prophetic language, the Second Coming of Christ. I want to read to you some verses that capture the idea of the feast of the Kingdom of God. In this case, it's the wedding supper, of God's lamb, the Lamb of God, Jesus the son of God. Just listen to these verses in conclusion and you'll see that this theme of God's feast, in God's Kingdom, is brought to conclusion ultimately at the second coming of Christ. Revelation 19: 6.
6Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. 7Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come,and his bride has made herself ready. 8Fine linen, bright and clean,was given her to wear.” Fine linen stands for the acts of righteous people. 9Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”Revelation 19:6-9, NIV
We know that this bride, the bride of Christ, is a symbol of the Church invited when Jesus comes to the wedding supper of the Lamb. That time of rejoicing and salvation that Jesus was speaking about in the parable of the wedding banquet and the other teaching that he gives in this episode. This is our great expectation and our great hope as Christians.