The parable of the banquet is a parable of obliterating preexisting status measures and revealing what the kingdom of God is really all about. This parable surprised the audience of Jesus and it is meant to surprise us too. The way in which the world works in terms of status haven’t changed much since Jesus’ time and this parable hasn’t changed either. As we dive into this parable, we’re going to notice some interesting facts about human nature, how the world works, and how, in some aspects, it never changes. Let’s dive in.
The context of this parable speaks volume to the meaning of the parable. In Luke 14, Jesus has been invited to a Pharisee’s house on the Sabbath to eat the Sabbath meal. He notices a man, helas him, and sends him away. Then Jesus notices that there are prominent, wealthy people in the places of honor at the table. He gives a teaching about not taking the place of honor when you are invited and when you invite others invite those who are “low status”, as they were considered in this day, so that we will be rewarded at the resurrection. Then Jesus gives this parable about a banquet and you can read it here. Once we have read it, we will begin to discover some interesting things about God, the world, and the kingdom.
This parable all circles around the idea of Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom and how God’s kingdom works differently than the world’s social system. The meaning of the parable lies within its context. What we have is an owner of a house who throws a big banquet and invites a lot of people. But the guests all make excuses as to why they can’t come so now no one is coming to the banquet. This would be a huge waste to do all the work to prepare for a banquet and have no one to share it with so the owner tells his servants to go into the city and bring in all the “outcasts” of society. Those who are poor, hurting, crippled, and lost. But there was still room, so the servants go outside the city and invite anyone to come and the owner ends with a warning. No one who was originally invited will take part in the banquet. Then the parable ends. What is this all about? How is the kingdom like this banquet? This all makes much more sense when we realize the parable is about what Jesus was doing then.
From the Hebrew prophets to Paul’s letters, we know that the kingdom was given to the Jewish nation first. It was offered to the nation that flowed from Abraham’s descendents. What we see in the gospel accounts, however, is that the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus (Matthew 21:42). They did not accept the kingdom invitation that Jesus was offering to them during his ministry. If we follow the parable in this light, Jesus is the owner of the house and the guests who made the excuses were the religious leaders. Then, if our interpretation of the parable is right, Jesus should then invite the poor and outcasts of society because that’s what happens next in the story. Well, as it turns out, that’s exactly what Jesus did. Many times we see Jesus associating and eating with “sinners” that the religious leaders were appalled at (Luke 5:29-32, Luke 15:1-2, John 4). The religious leaders could never understand why Jesus was doing this all the time and it’s because they had already rejected Jesus in their hearts.
Following our parable plotline, the story should then take us outside the city (outside the Jewish nation) to call people to Jesus. This is what the entire story of the book of Acts is all about. The Gentile nation being reached and being brought the Good News of the kingdom of God is able to “fill the room” using the language of the parable and the banquet of the kingdom shall go on.
The meaning of this parable is that the kingdom of God is being brought through Jesus. The leaders of Israel have rejected him and he finds faithful followers to invite to the banquet. Anyone who accepted this offer and did not make an excuse, is accepted. The significance for us is asking ourselves if we are going to accept the offer of the kingdom or are we going to reject it? There is no status in the kingdom and this was a surprising message to an audience saturated in social status. The kingdom humbles the proud and exalts the humble. The question for us is are we going to be humble or be humbled by the offer of the kingdom?