The parable of the great banquet is interesting because it brings up two important themes; invitation and excuse. Both of which are brought together by the center piece of a table—a meal shared together. Now it doesn’t take a genius to know that this story is about more than just a banquet. Parables are similar to Aesop’s fables in the fact that they tell stories that illustrate a greater point. So, this story about the great banquet is about more than just a meal and its guests. Just like “The boy who cried wolf” is about more than just a boy and a wolf.
Our parable for today is a story not only about a meal, but really, it’s about the Kingdom of God. The table these people are being invited to is not only a wonderful luxurious meal but more than that, this is a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. This story is about an invitation and the transformation that comes when we choose to take a seat at the table.
The Table Is Invitational
Invitation is one of the main themes of this parable, much as Jesus’ whole ministry. Jesus is constantly seeking out people and inviting them to join him on the journey. Jesus starts this parable by saying there are people who have been invited to a great banquet. This is playing on a common theme of that day, where the mighty and prominent were the people you would invite, because who you ate with mattered. Who you shared a meal with said a lot about who you were and where you landed on the food chain. So, whether you were a prominent person yourself, whether you were popular, you could always elevate yourself by having someone more popular attend.
So, the story starts, and Jesus says that this master has invited the popular. And yet they can’t make it. They all have an excuse. The Master looks around and sees all of this work he has put into this meal. Parties and feasts were something of a fiscal nightmare. These were massive events, which cost a lot of money and had about every first-century delicacy you can think of. So rather than have it all go to waste, the owner or Master sends out his servant to invite ‘The poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
This is a motley crew. These are not your ordinary guests. These are the outcasts, the people on the fringes, the people often forgot and marginalized—Especially in this culture. This is powerful because the Master knows the value of the feast and chooses to associate and invite the outcasts. Jesus flips the cultural norm upside down. One of the main themes of the parable of the great banquet is the open invitation to any and all. Not just to the perfect, popular, or powerful.
God wants me. God wants you. God wants everyone at His table.
Not just the Mother Teresa’s of the world, but the broken and the messy. The people who don’t quite make sense in the context of the party. The people who are rough around the edges. The people who struggle to accept love and grace. God wants and invites everyone. This is key because when you start to understand this, you begin to realize that no matter where you are or how broken you think you are, you are never too far away from God. You are never too far to be loved and embraced. You are always being invited to the table.
The Table is a Daily Decision
Excuse, similarly, is a pretty important theme in this parable. Jesus invites all of these people. And we see them, one by one, creating excuses. One says that he just bought land, and he needs to make sure everything is okay. Another says he just bought oxen and he needs to tend to them. And another says he just got married. The interesting point to be made here is that all of these excuses are extremely valid. Think about your last big purchase or the start of your marriage, or even when you first got a family pet. Now imagine if someone had invited you to come to their party before you could even get your bearings. I imagine you would want a raincheck.
I say this to draw your attention to how valid these excuses are. These are completely understandable, and yet, all of these people missed the feast. No matter how big or important their excuses were, they skipped the banquet and missed the feast that was in store for them.
Now, as a reminder, this is about more than just a meal. This is a story about the Kingdom of God, which adds a level of reality to this theme of excuse. Jesus is talking about how people are invited into the Kingdom of God, and yet, if we’re not careful, we tend to create excuses that prevent us from entering the Kingdom of God. For the three people in our parable, there were excuses in their hearts or on their lips, and they were justifiable. And for many of us, the same thing happens.
What’s Your Excuse?
Life gets in the way. Things get busy. Times get tough, and God is often put on the back burner. Which begs the question; what’s your excuse? What is preventing you from putting God first? What is the thing keeping you away from the banquet? Because at some time or another, we all have an excuse. We all have a thing that gets in the way of our relationship with God and puts a barrier between us and the table. It is only when we choose to drop our excuses and begin to embrace the invitation of God that we will choose to take a seat at the table.
The imagery of the table is another way of speaking about our relationship with God and our communion with the Heavenly Father. And the choice to sit at the table is not a one-time invitation, nor is it something that we accept once in our life. It is an on-going decision that we make every day of our lives. Every day, we must choose to drop the excuses that are barriers in our life and choose to sit at the table.
The table is a daily decision we must make over and over and over again. And what a beautiful reminder, because if you have let your excuses get in the way in the past, every day you have another opportunity to say “yes” and take a seat. What grace that is.
The table we are being invited to is a place of transformation and redemption, where we are called to embrace the love and gospel of Jesus Christ. God has saved a seat for you. He made room for you to sit at the table, no matter where you are. No matter how religious you are. No matter how broken you think you are. You are already invited. God already saved you a seat. All that’s left is for you to choose to sit down and enjoy the meal.
Father, today we pray for grace for all of the times we have let our excuses get in the way. Today, may we choose to accept your invitation and take a seat at the table. And may we continue to grow closer and closer to you. Amen.
When 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.”
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“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.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“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.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“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. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:15-24 NIV)